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via BBC News

The nine justices of the US Supreme Court have put off until next week a decision on whether to consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

The US high court met to discuss cases to be heard, including a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) that outlaws gay marriage.

The 1996 law states that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

The high court would hear any cases chosen by the coming spring and make a ruling by the end of June 2013.

Thirty-one of the 50 US states have passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, while Washington DC and nine states have legalised it, three of them in the recent US elections.

All of the possible cases before the Supreme Court deal with three laws:

  • Doma, which prevents legally married gay couples from receiving federal marital benefits
  • Proposition 8, an amendment to California’s state constitution that overturned an earlier law legalising gay marriage
  • Part of a 2009 Arizona law granting marital benefits only to legally married state employees (gay marriage is not legal in Arizona).

Each of the laws has been struck down in rulings by lower courts.

The biggest question before the court is whether the right to marry must be extended to same-sex couples because it is a fundamental right under the US constitution’s guarantee of equal protection to all citizens.

Analysts expect the Supreme Court will agree to hear challenges to Doma.

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