By Bill Mears, WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court will tackle the contentious issue of same-sex marriage and hear two constitutional challenges to state and federal laws dealing with the recognition of gay and lesbian couples to legally wed.
In a one-page order on Friday, the court took on what will be one of the most important issues in its history. The decision to review the matter came just weeks after voters approved same-sex marriage in three states.
Oral arguments will likely be held in March with a ruling by late June.
The political, social, and legal stakes of this long-simmering debate will once again put the high court at the center of national attention, a contentious encore to its summer ruling upholding the massive health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama.
There are about approximately 120,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States.
Earlier this month, voters in Maryland, Washington, and Maine approved same-sex marriage, adding to the six states and the District of Columbia that already have done so. Minnesota voters also rejected an effort to ban such unions through a constitutional amendment.
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