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US Supreme Court Considers Federal Definition of Marriage

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The U.S. Supreme Court held a second day of arguments for and against same sex marriage, this time considering the 1996 federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Defense of Marriage Act denies same-sex couples certain federal benefits, such as Social Security survivor payments and tax deductions that heterosexual married couples enjoy. The court is considering whether the law deprives homosexuals the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.

During the Wednesday session, conservative justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts said they were troubled by President Barack Obama's decision not to defend in court the law Congress had approved. They said it called into question his willingness to defend other laws passed by Congress and challenged in court.

The court heard arguments Tuesday on the constitutionality of California's ban on gay marriage. The justices indicated a reluctance to rule broadly on the right to marry for gays and lesbians, suggesting the court may be similarly cautious about the federal ban.

Countries where gay marriage is legalCountries where gay marriage is legal
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Countries where gay marriage is legal
Countries where gay marriage is legal
Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.

Recent public opinion polls show a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. It is legal in nine states and Washington, D.C. Supporters call it a human and civil rights issue and are hoping for a decision similar to one in 1967 that struck down state laws banning interracial marriage.

But 29 other states have passed amendments in their constitutions that outlaw gay marriage. Opponents insist the institution of marriage must be protected to ensure the family unit.

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