msnbc | November 30, 2012
>>> watching some major developments at the u.s. supreme court where the nine justices are behind closed doors considering whether to take up cases that will impact same-sex marriage in america. ten marriage equality cases are on the high court 's menu. eight of them deal with the federal defense of marriage act , or doma . joining me now is chris geidner. the man who knows the supreme court inside and out, pete williams . pete , good to have you with us. break it down. which cases are we talking about, and how quickly might we find out whether they will move forward?
>> reporter: well, if they're going to take any of these cases, thomas, it's very likely we'll find out this afternoon. and i think the most likely event here is that they will grant one of the cases that challenges the federal defense of marriage act . passed in 1966 by congress signed by president clinton , it defines marriage as for federal law purposes as only the legal union of one man and one woman. now, the practical effect of that is that in the nine states that now grant or soon will grant same-sex couples the legal right to get married, those couples are legally married under state law , but the federal government doesn't recognize their marriage, which means that they can't get survivors' benefits, they don't get tax benefits, they don't get social security benefits. about 1,000 benefits in all that are the result of this federal law that's being challenged by several cases. and that's why you say there are at least eight of them, all of which say that the federal law is unconstitutional discrimination. and the challengers also say there's never been another case where congress says, well, we're not going to recognize a marriage that the state defines as legal. so i think that's the most likely thing that will happen today. but one of the cases that the justices will be talking about is the challenge to california 's proposition 8. that's the voter-approved measure four years ago that stopped gay marriage in california . now, a federal appeals court overturned the ban and did so on a basis that was rather narrow and applied only to california . if the supreme court takes that case, then at the very least, it will decide what's going to become of gay marriage in california , but there's also the chance that the justices, if they take that case, could get to the more fundamental issue, which is can any state refuse to allow same-sex couples to get married? would that violate the constitution? and of course, if they went that far, it would be huge. but back to reality, i think it's pretty likely we'll get the doma case today. the supreme court almost always steps in which states have found an act of congress unconstitutional. you've got several lower court decisions that have gone that way. so it seems pretty likely. and thomas, there's no set time here. we may know by, say, midafternoon.
>> all right. nbc news's pete williams outside the supreme court , thank you. we check in now with chris geidner. he works for buzz feed. we follow your work. i know you outlined four different possible scenarios for an outcome. take us through those quickly, those four.
>> yeah, i mean, pete talked about those scenarios. the possibility today is that the court could either decide to take one case challenging the defense of marriage act --
>> we say that one out of the eight because there are eight different ones that are before them, correct?
>> there are eight petitions that are before the court. some of them involve the same cases. there are a few times that, like, the department of justice filed a petition before the court. the house republican leaders who are defending doma filed a petition before the court. and some of the organizations like the gay and lesbian advocates and defenders who are backing one of the cases, or the aclu, which is backing one of the cases also filed a report.
>> chris , does it matter or does something get their attention more? would doma be more likely to get their attention since it deals with something more on a federal level than would california and prop 8 would on a state level?
>> i think what pete was hinting at is that when the court has a federal law at issue, it's more likely to take the case when in this case now two circuits, the first circuit out of boston and the second circuit out of new york have already struck down the law. so when you have that sort of a situation, the justices are -- you've gotten their attention.
>> once that happens, what does it do to the states like california ? and then you have other states in the country that are looking to put marriage equality into action as law and open it up for people.
>> well, when we were looking at the different possibilities that i discussed at buzz feed, one of the things that could happen with this case is that they accept the doma challenge. and while they're doing that, they just let the prop 8 case sit before them. and they wait until they've decided what they're going to do with the defense of marriage act . and then depending on the type of decision that they rule in that case, it could be broad enough that it could have an impact on states like california . it could also have impact on states like north carolina that just passed an amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying earlier this year.
>> all right. so we all are on the supreme court watch again just waiting to see if they will move the ball down the court, so to speak, moving any of these up for their consideration. chris geidner is buzz feed senior political reporter, great