WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is wading into the fight over same-sex marriage at a time when public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor of permitting gay and lesbian couples to wed, but 40 states don't allow it.
The court's first major examination of gay rights in 10 years begins Tuesday with a hearing on California's ban on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the justices will consider the federal law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving a range of benefits afforded straight married Americans.
People have been waiting in line — even through light snow — since Thursday for coveted seats for the argument over California's Proposition 8.
The two California couples challenging the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the nation's largest state are in Washington for the argument and are urging the justices to strike down not just the California provision, but constitutional amendments and statutes in every state that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
They envision the 21st century equivalent of the court's 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down state bans on interracial marriages.