BY MICHAEL DOYLE AND STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court turned to same-sex marriage Friday in a big way, by agreeing to review a California ballot measure that banned it and a federal law that blocks benefits for married same-sex couples.
In an ambitious move, the justices agreed to second-guess a lower court’s decision striking down California’s Proposition 8. Simultaneously, they agreed to consider challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks same-sex married couples from receiving a host of federal benefits.
The separate cases, to be heard next year, will thrust the often-divided high court into hot political territory and tricky constitutional terrain.
"DOMA is now going to be reviewed by the highest court of the land," said family law specialist Richard Milstein of Akerman Senterfitt in Miami. "This will [weaken] DOMA and give equality to same-sex couples and heterosexual couples."
Milstein said that if DOMA goes away, the federal government would then recognize all legal marriages, even in states such as Florida with constitutional bans against same-sex weddings.
"When DOMA falls, federal tax returns can be filed whether your state recognizes gay marriage or not," Milstein said. "It would also recognize survivor's Social Security benefits and other forms of survivor benefits and rights including the Family Leave Act and veterans benefits."
There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law, according to Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group.
"All of those would be applicable to same-sex couples under a valid legal marriage," Milstein said. "It's my opinion that the state's legal standing against marriage equality will topple the same as it did in miscegeny laws."