Nightly News   |  December 07, 2012

SCOTUS to take up gay marriage

Just a day after Washington became the latest state to allow gay couples to marry, the U.S. Supreme Court will take a serious look at same-sex marriage for the first time ever. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening, it was a rare event, late on a friday afternoon when we learned the u.s. supreme court is going to weigh in to one of the most talked about and emotional issues of our time, whether same-sex couples have the same rights as everybody else, specifically and especially, the right to marry. the court has taken on two cases here from opposite ends of the country. and their rulings will stand as the law of the land . our justice correspondent pete williams was there when it came down.

>> reporter: brian, it will be historic. because this is the first time the supreme court has ever agreed to take a serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage. and it will consider two questions, can the federal government refuse to recognize them in the states where they're already legal? and what is to become of them in california. just a day after washington state became the latest allowing gay couples to get married, the supreme court said it will look into one of the nation's most hot hotly debated issues.

>> we know they're going to say something about gay marriage for the first time ever.

>> reporter: the court agreed to look at prop 8, passed four years ago, ending same-sex marriage in the state. the court ruled it was unconstitutional, on grounds applied only in california. but now that the supreme court is weighing in, the justices could get to the main issue, can the states ban the marriage? nine are now weighing in. the court agreed to hear a challenge to the federal defense of marriage act , defining marriage as only a legal union between one man and one woman. the law had a big effect on edie windsor in new york, who married in 2007 , when she died, leaving windsor the state, they sent a tax bill for $336,000 because they didn't consider them to be married.

>> it was the injustice, ultimately, i just couldn't believe that they were making a stranger of this person i lived with and loved for 42 years.

>> reporter: under that law, same-sex marriage couples who are legally married are denied federal benefits that other married couples get. after first supporting the marriage act , the obama administration concluded last year that it violates the constitution.

>> we cannot defend the federal government poking its nose into what states are doing and putting the thumb on the scale against same-sex couples.

>> reporter: house republicans are now taking up the law's legal defense , supporters say it supports traditional marriage .

>> it is not the same thing between a man and woman, and only the marriage between a man and woman can connect children to their mother and father and their parents to the children.

>> reporter: the fact that the court has agreed to take up both cases could mean that the justices are prepared to get to the heart of the same-sex issue, and could be the heart of what essentially could be the roe v. wade of those rights.