Nightly News   |  March 25, 2013

SCOTUS to take up Prop 8, DOMA

As public opinion on gay marriage continues to shift, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether the federal government can refuse to recognize it, and whether the states can ban it in the first place. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> now to washington where this is the eve of a big day . the u.s. supreme court is turning its attention to same-sex marriage. the justices are taking up two cases on this subject, deciding whether the federal government can refuse to recognize it and whether the states themselves can ban same-sex marriage. in the meantime, public attitudes have been shifting fast. our justice correspondent pete williams is at the court for us tonight. pete, good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening. this is high drama because the supreme court has never before taken a serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage. so the stakes are high and these cases come here at a time -- right at the time public opinions are rapidly shifting. if this is any barometer, interest is keen. a line began forming outside the court last thursday for people willing to brave the cold and wet for a seat inside. tomorrow the justices take up proposition 8 , the voter initiative that stopped same-sex marriage in california. two gay couples in the state are challenging the law saying it discriminates against them for no valid reason.

>> i don't see how our getting married would impact anybody else's marriage negatively in any way.

>> reporter: but defenders of prop 8 say it is to protect the traditional notion of family.

>> marriage laws are designed to attach mothers and fathers to each other and the children they may create and raise in the best environment.

>> reporter: wednesday the court hears a challenge to doma, the defense of marriage act , passed by congress in 1996 . it blocks the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage in the states that allow it. much has changed in the 17 years since president clinton signed it into law. he says it should be over turned because it is unconstitutional discrimination. no states permitted same-sex marriage when congress passed doma. now nine states do allow it, along with washington, d.c. 38 others ban it by law or constitutional amendment .

>> what do we want?

>> marriage equality .

>> when do we want it?

>> now.

>> reporter: public opinion polls show more than half of americans now support it. supporters of marriage for gay couples claim the cultural tide is moving in their direction.

>> if the supreme court disagrees with these claims, history will not look fondly on it. the court almost prides itself in moving very slowly, not being in front of culture, lagging behind some. that's probably the dilemma for the justices.

>> reporter: and there is a footnote. among those who do have a seat inside for tomorrow's argument is a cousin of chief justice john roberts . jean pedroski of san francisco . she writes in an online commentary that she's a lesbian. she hopes to soon get married if the supreme court permits it. brian?