High court skeptical of federal marriage law

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In the second day of back-to-back cases involving gay marriage, the Supreme Court Wednesday heard arguments for and against federal benefits for same sex couples.

Today's oral arguments focused on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which limits the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote in close cases, joined the four more liberal justices in raising questions about the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that is being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Kennedy said the law appears to intrude on the power of states that have chosen to recognize same-sex marriages. Other justices said the law creates what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called two classes of marriage, full marriage and "skim-milk marriage."

The law affects a range of benefits available to married couples, including tax breaks, survivor benefits and health insurance for spouses of federal employees.

For the second day in a row, thousands of people crowded into the Supreme Court plaza both for and against same sex marriage. The court is considering whether the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional because it prevents the federal government from recognizing marriages of same sex couples who - according to the laws of their state - are legally married.

 See an interactive map showing gay marriage laws throughout the USA.

Inside the Supreme Court, what's interesting about Tuesday's case is that it's getting caught up in procedural issues - specifically the court's concern about whether it should even be hearing this case. They allocated the first fifteen minutes of this case additional time.  To consider that very question, they even brought in a Harvard law professor.

To bring a case before the Supreme Court, you must have a claim of injury. Because it's House Republicans, not the Justice Department, defending the law, the court still isn't sure that the requirement has been met.

Just like Monday in the Proposition 8 case, justices are expected to be divided on this issue with no clear majority either way after the hearing.

It also is possible the court could dismiss the case for procedural reasons, though that prospect seemed less likely than it did in Tuesday's argument over gay marriage in California.

A decision is expected in June.