Martin Bashir | December 07, 2012
>>> now more on a big day at the supreme court . announcing this afternoon that it will take its first serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage. nbc's pete williams joins us live at the supreme court . pete , is this not a historic moment in the process of recognition for same-sex marriage?
>> an important step in the process, whether it will lead toward recognition or not, we don't know, of course. that's the big question that one of these cases raises. the surprising thing here, martin, is that the court took both these cases. tft widely expected they would hear the appeal to the federal defense of marriage act because the supreme court feels its duty to step in whenever the lower court has said an act of congress is unconstitutional. the defense of marriage act passed in 1996 signed by president clinton says that in those states where people are legally married , same-sex couples are legally married , the federal government won't recognize their benefits. the challengers argue that that is unconstitutional discrimination. we assume the court would take up that case. the surprise here today is that the justices really went the whole way and took up the other big question here, which is a challenge to california 's proposition 8. remember the history. in 2008 the state supreme court ruled that same-sex couples could get married. then the voters passed prop 8 that stopped those marriages. they have been on hold while this case is going through the lower courts. what the supreme court is going to review is a court of appeals decision that is very narrowly crafted that's sort of good for california only that said you can't give the right and then take it away. california is the only state that has done that. but here is the thing. the court could either issue very narrowly and say, yeah, we agree with that decision or we don't, or they could go the whole way and get to the main question here, which is can any state say that it's unconstitutional or against the law for same-sex couples to get married. the case as it comes here doesn't ask the justices to decide that whole question, but once the case gets here, who knows where it could go.
>> yes, i agree, it's certainly historical because the supreme court has never fully addressed the question of same-sex marriage.
>> and do you think, pete , that this was almost inevitable given the number of states, i believe four, that voted for same-sex marriage last month?
>> reporter: incompetent evidentabeviden -- inevitable some day. it's risky because you just assume there are four votes to say yes, the states have to allow same-sex marriage, four votes to say no and it leaves it up to justice anthony kennedy . when the court grants a case like this, all we get is a bare statement saying they're going to take the case. we don't know what the vote is. it takes only four just tuss to grant a case but it takes five votes to win. we don't know. which were the four who said we should take this and, you know, how did they think justice kennedy would vote? that's what we'll find out in june.
>> june, right.
>> reporter: when they decide it, right.
>> nbc justice correspondent pete williams . thanks so much, pete .