By Terry Baynes
WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday remained silent about whether it will enter the legal fray over same-sex marriage a n d hear one of several pending appeals on the issue.
The court's nine justices met in private on Friday to consider whether to review challenges to the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples, and to California's gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8.
In an "orders list" issued early on Monday, the court made no mention of any of the same-sex marriage cases. Instead, it relisted those cases for further consideration at its weekly conference this Friday. The justices sometimes hold especially complex cases for a future conference if they want more time to consider a course of action.
Thirty-one of the 50 states have passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage while Washington, D.C., and nine states have legalized it, three of them in November elections.
At issue is the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman. Gay men and lesbians have challenged a part of the law that prevents them from receiving federal benefits that heterosexual couples receive.
Even in states where same-sex marriage is legal, the couples do not qualify for a host of federal benefits because of DOMA.
The court also is considering whether to review a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage. The California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, had sought marriage equality for gays and lesbians under the U.S. Constitution.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in February found the California gay marriage ban unconstitutional but it ruled narrowly in a way that only affected the one state and not the rest of the country, finding that the state could not take away the right to same-sex marriage after previously allowing it.
The justices meet at regular weekly sessions to decide which cases to add to their calendar. They vote in order of seniority, and while it takes five of the nine for a majority decision in a dispute, it takes only four votes to add a case to the agenda and schedule oral arguments.
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"I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Mitt Romney said.
"This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights," said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. "No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people - and I have no doubt that this will be no exception. The march of freedom that has sustained our country since the Revolution of 1776 continues, and no matter what setbacks may occur in a given state, freedom will triumph over fear and equality will prevail over exclusion. Today's announcement is a testament to the President's convictions, and it builds on the courageous stands that so many Americans have taken over the years on behalf of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, stretching back to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village."
"I applaud President Obama for announcing his support for marriage equality today," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) "For the first time in this nation's history, a sitting president has shown the courage and leadership to stand up for all American families by pledging to support the fundamental right of every person to marry the person they love, and to have that marriage fully respected. I commend President Obama for this brave and honest step. Those who seek to politicize civil rights for personal or political gain will certainly attack him, but the course toward marriage equality and justice is the correct and inevitable path."
"I'm thrilled!" longshot GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger told HuffPost, referring to Obama's embrace of marriage equality. Karger is the first openly gay Republican or Democrat to run for president. "The Karger pressure has worked," he joked. "Particularly after the defeat in North Carolina, we welcome him to the full equality position."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Chris Coons
"I have been blessed to have a long and happy marriage. I strongly believe all Americans deserve that same opportunity," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
"While President Obama has played politics on this issue, the Republican Party and our presumptive nominee Mitt Romney have been clear. We support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and would oppose any attempts to change that," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Christine C. Quinn
"Barack Obama just announced he supports same-sex marriage," Mike Huckabee wrote in a fundraising appeal to supporters. "Nancy Pelosi immediately jumped on the announcement and emailed Democrat activists nationwide promising to continue their fight. This is going to be a defining issue this election. Obama, Pelosi and the Democrats have been a complete failure on economic issues so now they are going to focus on issues that will rile up their base. Well, Mr. President it's going to rile up our folks also. Men and women who support traditional marriage."
Rep. Bill Taylor
"President Obama's support for marriage equality marks an important moment for civil rights in America," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who co-sponsored legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). "We simply can not treat same sex couples as second-class citizens in our country. Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time and is critical to guaranteeing the equal protection under the law promised to every American in the Constitution. The President's support for marriage equality should inspire Congress, Governors and state legislatures to advance civil rights for all Americans."
Ann McLane Kuster
Sen. Patrick Leahy
"This is an historic moment and I applaud the President for his decision and courage," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said. "One of the greatest and most liberating human emotions is acceptance. And what the President did today was accept that the quality of love two people share is more important than their gender. The President's decision required him look within and engage his heart. It is truly wonderful and welcome news."
Senator Patty Murray
"As an early and strong proponent of Marriage Equality, I am very happy that President Obama has made this announcement," said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) "Marriage Equality is a matter of basic human rights and all of America's same-sex families are now closer to having their unions recognized by our government. This is an important step in our country's march toward achieving true justice and equality for all."
"President Obama's public support for marriage equality is an historic affirmation of the fundamental American value of equal rights for all," said Howard Dean. "Having signed the nation's first law allowing Civil Unions as Governor of Vermont, I'm also proud to see our president affirm the belief that I and so many other Americans hold: loving and committed couples should have the same benefits that are extended through marriage. Marriage equality is a right and a benefit to all families."
Senator Ben Cardin
Sen. Barbara Boxer
Senator Dick Durbin