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By Timothy M. Phelps, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has struggled with the issue of gay marriage and gay rights for nearly half a century. Here are some of the key decisions:

Baker vs. Nelson, 1972: The first Supreme Court gay marriage ruling was just a sentence long, saying that the appeal of a gay couple from Minnesota who had been turned down for a marriage license “is dismissed for lack of a substantial federal question.”

Bowers vs. Hardwick, 1986: The justices by a vote of 5-4 upheld a Georgia law outlawing sodomy. The case involved a Georgia bartender, Michael Hardwick, who was arrested on suspicion of having oral sex with another man in Hardwick’s bedroom. The justices said the constitutional right of privacy did not extend to homosexual sodomy.

Romer vs. Evans, 1996: In a 6-3 decision that became the precursor for later gay marriage rulings, the justices struck down a Colorado voter initiative that said no homosexual could be protected from discrimination based on their orientation.

Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale, 2000: The court ruled that the Boy Scouts had a constitutional right to exclude openly gay Scout masters based on the Scouts’ freedom of association. The 5-4 ruling reversed a decision of the New Jersey state courts.

Lawrence vs. Texas, 2003: The court, in an emotional opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, overturned Bowers vs. Hardwick, ruling that a Texas sodomy law violated the constitutional rights of liberty and privacy. The 6-3 decision overturned the convictions of two gay men arrested in their apartment in Houston.

U.S. vs. Windsor, 2013: In a landmark 5-4 decision that has been the basis for dozens of federal court rulings striking down gay marriage bans, the justices struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The court said the federal government could not deny benefits to legally married gay couples.

Hollingsworth vs. Perry, 2013: The justices upheld a lower court ruling invalidating California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8. While the 5-4 decision made gay marriage possible for Californians, it was a technical ruling that marriage opponents did not have standing to appeal and so did not apply to other states.

Photo: John Marino via Flickr

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