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Justices question federal marriage definition


WASHINGTON (BP) — Several U.S. Supreme Court justices, including swing vote Anthony Kennedy, questioned the validity of the Defense of Marriage Act in oral arguments last week, signaling they may be ready to strike down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The high court heard arguments March 27 for the second consecutive day on the contentious issue of same-sex marriage. While arguments dealt with a California initiative that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, the following day’s debate regarded Congress’ 1996 law that used the same definition for federal purposes.

The justices have several options in resolving the two cases, which likely will be decided in June before the court adjourns for the summer. The possibilities range from affirming laws protecting traditional marriage to legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country. Some observers predict the court will agree on a ruling somewhere between those possibilities.

Arguments on March 27 concerned only part of DOMA, which received overwhelming approval and was signed into law by President Clinton, who recently said he now opposes the measure. Lower courts struck down the law’s Section 3, which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for purposes of such matters as federal benefits.

Some associate justices questioned the federal government’s role in enacting DOMA, since marriage is traditionally the domain of state governments. Kennedy, who often votes with the court’s conservatives but has sided with its liberals on some issues championed by homosexual activists, charged DOMA with inconsistency.