The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it would decide whether same-sex couples have the right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.
The court said it would examine and rule on appeals of lower-court rulings that backed bans on such marriages in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Ten other states also prohibit such unions.
The long-awaited decision to rule on one of the country's most divisive social issues came just months after lower-court rulings that struck down gay marriage bans in five other states.
Last week, Florida became the 36th U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Gay marriage is also legal in the District of Columbia.
The nine high-court justices will hear oral arguments in April, with a ruling expected in June.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement Friday saying the Justice Department would most likely file a friend-of-the-court brief in the gay marriage case and urge the Supreme Court to "make marriage equality a reality for all Americans."
Gay marriage opponents argue that the U.S. Constitution does not specifically dictate how states should define marriage. They also insist there is no legal tradition that supports the right of same-sex couples to marry.
However, polling conducted in the past two years shows the majority of Americans now favor gay marriage. In a show of support, the White House late last year noted those polls, saying the majority of Americans recognize that same-sex couples deserve fair and equal treatment under the law.