GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule in two landmark cases regarding gay marriage later Wednesday.
It's the first time the High Court has taken on the issue of same-sex marriages. One of the cases challenges California's "Proposition 8" -- which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. The other takes on the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" -- or "DOMA"-- which blocks legally married gay couples from receiving federal benefits.
Both are controversial and both are capturing the nation's attention.
The DOMA case will likely have the widest reaching implications on the national level, according to Cooley Law School, constitutional law professor, Devin Schindler.
"They define marriage between one man and one woman. The argument there is that Congress cannot make that distinction consistent with the Equal Protection, or restated, it violates equal protection to treat people differently for the purposes of defining marriage under federal law," he said.
Schindler says the Court's decision will decide whether same-sex couples can received federal benefits and programs, ranging from medical benefits to medicaid and social security.
"Right now, same-sex marriage may be legal in a particular state but that same-sex marriage is not recognized by the federal government," he said. "For example, if you have a couple who is differently sexed. Let's say the woman is in the military, if the husband dies and the wife dies, the husband can be buried in a military graveyard, but if you have a same-sexed couple married legally under state law, they cannot be buried in a federal cemetery."
Schindler says the Supreme Court's ruling on Proposition 8 will likely have a lesser impact outside the state of California.
"It is a very strange case and details are something only a law professor could love. In a nutshell, what's going to come out of that case is gonna apply in California and not the other states. I think it's very unlikely that the Supreme Court is going to rule that same sex marriage is going to be allowed in all 50 states. I could be wrong, but I think the ruling will be much more narrow."
Ultimately, justices can decide to uphold Prop 8, which would make same-sex marriage illegal in California; overturn the law making gay marriage legal in California only; overturn Prop 8 nationally and make gay marriage legal in every state; overturn Prop 8 and make same-sex marriage legal in California and the eight states where civil unions - not gay marriage - are now legal; or the Supreme Court could rule that Proposition 8 backers have no legal standing. In that case, the Court could overturn the law or throw the case back to a lower court.
No matter what the United States Supreme Court decides Wednesday, it will be history making.