The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear oral arguments in a pair of potentially groundbreaking same-sex marriage cases. On March 26, the court will hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 2008 that amended the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. On March 27, the court will hear a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage.

People have been fighting over same-sex marriage in courtrooms around the country for more than 20 years. Until recently, however, most of the action has taken place in state courts. The Supreme Court’s decision to take the DOMA case (United States v. Windsor) and the Proposition 8 case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) shifts the judicial focus from state to federal courts. It also raises the stakes: While state court rulings impact a particular state, federal cases involve federal constitutional principles that could apply nationwide, as discussed in a recent Pew Research Center legal analysis of the two cases.

While the Supreme Court has an opportunity in these cases to rule on core constitutional questions, that doesn’t mean it necessarily will.

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