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Obama's inaugural speech gives hope to gay marriage supporters

His call to give gay people equality 'under the law' intensifies supporters' optimism that the White House will argue for same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court.

January 21, 2013|By Ken Dilanian and David G. Savage, Washington Bureau

"The country has shifted," said Dawn Moretz, 45, an elementary school teacher in Marshville, N.C., who was walking with a friend on the edge of the inaugural parade route Monday. Gay rights is "still a hot-button issue, but it's not as hush-hush as it used to be," she said.

The inaugural ceremonies reflected that shift. In addition to the lesbian and gay band that marched in the parade, officials chose a gay poet, Richard Blanco, to read at the celebration.

Such symbolism, however, would pale in comparison with a Supreme Court declaration. The justices have agreed to hear the two gay marriage cases in late March. Both pose questions about equal rights for same-sex couples.

In one case from New York, the justices will decide whether legally married gay couples are entitled to equal benefits under federal law. Obama's lawyers have joined with gay rights advocates in the case.

The other case stems from Proposition 8. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 in 2010, ruling that it violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. An appeals court affirmed the decision, and the Supreme Court decided in December to take the case.

So far, the Obama administration has not weighed in on the question. And because it is a state case, the Justice Department could stand aside and not take part. The administration has until late February to decide whether to file a brief in the case. Lawyers close to the administration say the final decision will be made at the White House, not the Justice Department.

Jessica Garrison in Los Angeles and Brian Bennett in Washington contributed to this report.

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