Supreme Court has range of options on gay marriage

WASHINGTON – The waiting is almost over.

Sometime in the next week or so, the Supreme Court will announce the outcomes in cases on California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The federal law, known by the shorthand DOMA, defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and therefore keeps legally married gay Americans from collecting a range of federal benefits that generally are available to married people.

The justices have a lengthy menu of options from which to choose. They might come out with rulings that are simple, clear and dramatic. Or they might opt for something narrow and legalistic.

The court could strike down dozens of state laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples, but it also could uphold gay marriage bans or say nothing meaningful about the issue at all.

A look at potential outcomes for the Proposition 8 case and then for the case about DOMA:

Q. What if the Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8?

A. This would leave gay Californians without the right to marry in the state and would tell the roughly three dozen states that do not allow same-sex marriages that there is no constitutional problem in limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

Such an outcome probably would trigger a political campaign in California to repeal Proposition 8 through a ballot measure, which opinion polls suggest would succeed, and could give impetus to similar voter or legislative efforts in other states.