Updated at 5:04 p.m. ET
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide on gay marriage this term.
The justices said today they will review an appellate court's decision to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky. The four states are among 14 that ban same-sex marriage.
NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, tells our Newscast unit that in all four states, district court judges struck down the ban, but their decisions were reversed by a panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Ohio. She adds:
"The court said it would hear arguments for 2 1/2 hours in April on two questions: first, whether the constitutional guarantee to equal protection of the law renders invalid state bans on same-sex marriage. And, second, whether states are required to recognize the marriage of a same-sex couple who marry legally in another state."
The case will be argued in April; a decision is expected by late June.
Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog notes: "The Court fashioned the specific questions it is prepared to answer, but they closely tracked the two core constitutional issues that have led to a lengthy string of lower-court rulings striking down state bans."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a statement, said the Justice Department will file a "friend of the court" brief in "these cases that will urge the Supreme Court to make marriage equality a reality for all Americans."
The case from Michigan involves couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse.
"We are now that much closer to being fully recognized as a family, and we are thrilled," DeBoer said in a statement. "This opportunity for our case to be heard by the Supreme Court gives us and families like ours so much reason to be hopeful."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which opposes gay marriage, in a statement called the Supreme Court's decision, a "long-overdue ruling to restore the freedom of the people to uphold marriage in their state laws as the union of a man and a woman."
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which supports same-sex marriage, said: "Marriage has returned to the U.S. Supreme Court faster than virtually any other issue in American history, and there's a simple reason for that--committed and loving gay and lesbian couples, their children, and the fair-minded American people refuse to wait a single day longer."
Today's decision by the justices comes just months after the justices had said they wouldn't hear any appeals on same-sex marriage during the last term. Although that move did not establish a constitutional right for gay couples to marry, the consequences were effectively the same. Thirty-six states allow gay couples to wed.