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A case pending in California brought by four same-sex couples seeks to strike down Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution passed by a 2008 referendum that affirms that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Arguments in that case concluded last month, and whatever the outcome, the ruling is expected to be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

Last week, a federal judge in Boston declared unconstitutional the denial of federal spousal benefits to gay couples married in Massachusetts. The federal government had denied a lesbian couple a series of benefits citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

But the judge in the case said the federal government could not do that, saying “the states alone are empowered to determine who is eligible to marry.”

The justices likely will have the opportunity to weigh in on either of those cases, if so inclined.

Robert Langran, a political science professor at Villanova University, said he doesn’t think the court is ready to consider gay marriage, in large part because of the political sensitivity of the issue.

“I wouldn’t think they would have an appetite for it because it’s so divisive,” he said. “Even though you have people on the court who probably oppose gay marriage, I don’t think they’re going to take this one.”

Mr. Langran said it likely would require differing opinions between federal appeals court judges before the high court felt compelled to hear a same-sex marriage case. However, he said, since the issue in the District is about whether the issue should be put to a public vote, he would not rule out an examination by the high court.

“They do look at referenda,” he said.

In addition to the District, five states perform same-sex marriages, three others recognize gay marriages from other states, and California acknowledges as valid gay marriages made during the five-month period it was legal in that state.

The District’s law was passed by the D.C. Council in December and signed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in January. The legislation came after the council last year passed a bill to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Same-sex marriages began taking place in the District in March.