The Supreme Court will hear whether federal law can bar same-sex married couples from receiving the same benefits that heterosexual spouses do.
The second major gay rights case at the Supreme Court involves a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.
The law restricts the receipt of more than 1,100 federal benefits to man-woman marriages. In essence, DOMA bars same-sex married spouses from obtaining the same federal benefits received by heterosexual married spouses.
Same-sex couples argue that the federal restriction violates their right to equal treatment.
The issue arises in the case of New York resident Edith Windsor, who says she was wrongly denied a marital exemption from the federal estate tax because of her same-sex marriage.
Ms. Windsor and Thea Spyer lived together for 44 years and were formally married in Canada in 2007. Ms. Spyer died two years later.
Although their marriage was recognized as legal in their home state of New York, under DOMA the Internal Revenue Service did not consider their same-sex relationship a marriage. Without the marital exemption to the federal estate tax, Windsor owed $363,000 in federal estate taxes.