As we learned last month, somewhat anxiously, the Supreme Court will be hearing and likely issuing rulings on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act in their current term. Today they announced the dates of those hearings. On March 26 they will hear arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Prop 8 challenge which was upheld by the 9th Circuit, and on March 27 they will hear arguments in a second landmark gay marriage case, United States v. Windsor.

In the former case, several gay couples sued the State of California arguing that Proposition 8, as passed by voters in 2008 and which rendered gay marriage illegal in California, was an unconstitutional violation of their rights.

The second case, which relates to DOMA, involves a widowed New York lesbian sued the government for having had to pay estate taxes upon her wife's death.

Legal experts were somewhat surprised that the court chose to take on the Prop 8 matter, which relates specifically to the California constitution, given that the DOMA case is more grounded in tax law and more clearly about federal equality. There's some ongoing nervousness among gay marriage advocates that this dual approach, ruling on both cases in tandem, may result in a split decision in which the DOMA battle gets won and the Prop 8 battle gets lost, which would be bad news for the California LGBT community and will likely lead to another statewide referendum. It could also set the clocks back for other states where gay marriage remains illegal via state referendum.

Activists on both sides should now be looking into plane tickets to D.C. to make some noise on the court steps in late March. Decisions in both cases would likely come in, in dramatic fashion, in the final weeks of the court's term in June.

[CBS 5]

All previous Prop 8 coverage on SFist.