WASHINGTON — Time is running short for the Supreme Court to get same-sex marriage on its calendar if the justices want to tackle the issue before their current term ends in late June.
They might have to decide to jump in at their closed-door conference Friday if they want to resolve the legal debate over gay marriage in the next few months.
The justices would hear the case in April, the last month for oral arguments before the next term begins in October.
Written arguments already would have to be filed on a compressed schedule, though both sides are well versed in the issues after numerous rounds in the lower courts.
Until now, the court has managed both to contribute to a dramatic increase in the number of states that allow same-sex couples to marry and avoid settling the issue for the entire nation. Last week, Florida became the 36th state to issue licenses for same-sex unions.
In October, the justices offered no explanation when they passed up appeals from both sides calling on the court to take up gay marriage. The court also subsequently refused to block court orders in favor of same-sex couples from taking effect while state officials appealed. As a result, the number of states where same-sex couples could wed nearly doubled.
The appeals before the court come from gay and lesbian plaintiffs in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The federal appeals court that oversees those four states upheld their same-sex marriage bans in November, reversing pro-gay rights rulings of federal judges in all four states.
Ten other states also prohibit such unions. In Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas, judges have struck down anti-gay marriage laws, but they remain in effect pending appeals. In Missouri, same-sex couples can marry in St. Louis and Kansas City only.
Louisiana is the only other state that has seen its gay marriage ban upheld by a federal judge. There have been no rulings on lawsuits in Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska and North Dakota.
MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press