For the conservatives on the court it's a "State's Rights" issue and for the liberals it's a "Civil Rights" issue, but both those points-of-view could spell the end of the Congress-created Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (aka DOMA) as federal law.
From The New York Times:
If the 1996 law stands, Justice Kennedy said, “you are at real risk with running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence” of state power, which he said was to regulate marriage, divorce and custody.
All four members of the court’s liberal wing questioned the constitutionality of the law, though they largely focused on equal protection principles rather than on the limits of federal power.
The death of DOMA would be a major stepping stone for marriage equality in America as, finally, it would be easier for gay and lesbian couples, married in states where they are allowed to marry, to retain the same rights as other married people. The Times says a ruling to strike down DOMA "would deliver federal benefits to married same-sex couples in the nine states, and the District of Columbia, that allow such unions."
The Obama Administration publicly said its Justice Department would not defend DOMA in 2011.Seen a major victory for gay rights and marriage equality advocates, it was part of a chain of events that lead to this day where it appears the Supreme Court may be leaning towards declaring it unconstitutional.
This February the Justice Department was still reiterating its stance on DOMA being unconstitutional.
"Moral opposition to homosexuality, though it may reflect deeply held personal views, is not a legitimate policy objective that can justify unequal treatment of gay and lesbian people" contained in the DOMA law, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said in the Justice Department's legal brief.
This brief is really at the crux of why this is an issue about discrimination and creating a second class of people, who's right to marry and what those marriages mean are being held by the fury of those would be least affected by those marriages -- religious objectors.
But the United States isn't supposed to make or enforce laws based on religious doctrine -- it's supposed to err on the side of keeping the tyranny of the majority from imposing its sometimes discriminatory will on a persecuted minority.
It's no different from when people objected on moral grounds interracial marriage, often invoking the Bible -- a document that literally has nothing to do with the modern social construct of race, yet has come up again and again in the effort to control and discriminate against others. In the New Testament, Jesus may have hung out with lepers, prostitutes, the poor and had a woman as his best friend during a time when women were decidedly not treated as equals, meaning maybe -- just maybe -- we're supposed to make peace and love what society considers to be "undesirable," but who wants to interpret the New Testament that way? Obviously it's better to focus on all that stone throwing, not because anyone is without sin, but because they want to throw rocks to hide their hands.
Personally, I'd like to see DOMA die and for gay marriage to just be marriage -- something ordinary that happens all the time and is protected under the law. I don't think gay marriage will lead to some wanton apocalypse where throngs of people will "turn gay" just by knowing to people of the same sex fell in love and decided to try growing old together. If anything, in a few more years, this question may be moot and gay marriage will be as ordinary as inter-faith marriages. And considering how Americans -- overall -- are getting married less and less, perhaps the ceremony has lost its luster for heterosexuals. Who are we to not let someone who actually wants matrimony to take a chance at it?