In our view
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases involving same-sex marriage bans this week.
The first, and most prominent, involves California's Proposition 8, which revoked the right of same-sex couples to marry -- a right that had been established by the California Supreme Court.
The second, lesser-known case, United States v. Windsor, involves the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
From a legal standpoint, the Windsor case, to be argued Wednesday, might actually be the more important of the two because it deals not just with the right to marry a member of the same sex but with property rights that are granted to heterosexual partners but denied to homosexual partners. That raises the question of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
The lawsuit was brought by Edith Windsor of New York City, who married Thea Clara Spyer in Canada in 2007. Spyer died in 2009 and left her estate to Windsor. But the Internal Revenue Service, citing DOMA, said Windsor could not be treated as a surviving spouse. She therefore faced a tax bill that a spouse in an heterosexual marriage would not have to pay.
Under DOMA, a same-sex partner is not entitled to Social Security, pension, bankruptcy or federal tax protections that accrue to a heterosexual partner.
The law is being challenged on the grounds that it is discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional.
While the Obama administration has weighed in against both Proposition 8 and DOMA, it is noteworthy that 278 of the nation's largest employers -- including Disney, Starbucks, Marriott and Apple -- have filed a brief to overturn the law.
The brief states that treating heterosexual and homosexual married employees differently leads to excessive administrative costs. Not only must companies maintain dual tax and payroll systems, but they must offer separate health, pension and insurance plans.
Last week, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, joined a growing list of prominent Republicans -- 76 at last count -- who support same-sex marriage.
In asking the justices to strike down California's Proposition 8 ballot measure, the Obama administration's friend-of-the-court brief marked the first time a U.S. president has urged the high court to expand the right of gays and lesbians to wed.
The lower courts have systematically overturned laws banning same-sex marriage. Indeed, because the federal government has changed its position on same-sex marriage, both the plaintiffs and defendants share the view that DOMA and Proposition 8 are unconstitutional. That led the justices, prior to accepting the cases, to ask whether the court has the authority to decide the issue.
An ABC News-Washington Post poll last week found that 58 percent of those polled believe that gay men and lesbians should have the right to marry.
There is little doubt that same-sex marriage ultimately will be legal in this country.
The high court can accelerate that process by striking down both DOMA and Proposition 8.