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Editorial: Supreme Court should note sea change on same-sex marriage

John Burczyk, right, and Antonino Puglia, center, partners

John Burczyk, right, and Antonino Puglia, center, partners of 35 years, fill out forms for marriage at the North Hempstead Town Clerk's office on the day that New York became the sixth and largest state to recognize same-sex weddings. (July 24, 2011) Credit: Charles Eckert

Yesterday it was Hillary Clinton. Friday it was Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and, before that, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and even Dick Cheney. What they have in common is that each has come out in support of same-sex marriage.

The six are also all former or current elected officials, and, in some cases, may want to be in the future. So some measure of political calculation no doubt figured in their epiphanies. But whatever the motivation, their current views on the subject mirror the rapidly changing sentiments of the American people.

In a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, 58 percent said gay and lesbian couples should be able to wed, up from 36 percent a decade ago. Same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states, including Maryland, Maine and Washington, where voters approved the unions in November.

As it weighs two cases on gay rights this term, the U.S. Supreme Court should note the dramatic shift in public opinion and seize the opportunity to rule that the choice of same-sex couples to marry is a constitutional right.

One case asks whether the Defense of Marriage Act -- which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman -- violates the Constitution by denying people in same-sex marriages federal spousal benefits, such as Social Security survivors payments and exemption from estate taxes. The other challenges the validity of a referendum in California that amended the state constitution to take away the right of same-sex couples to marry, a right that had been granted by the state courts.

Sixty-four percent of respondents in the recent poll want the issue of same-sex marriage resolved based on the Constitution rather than state by state. Cue the court.