US Supreme Court: more time for gay marriage case

The US Supreme Court said Monday it has decided to lengthen a hearing later this month for oral arguments in the much-anticipated case challenging a federal law that bars gay marriage.

The US high court added 50 minutes to the hour that had already been allotted to hear arguments in the March 27 hearing of United States v. Windsor, on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The DOMA law defines marriage exclusively as being between a man and a woman.

Under the law, same-sex couples are not eligible for various rights afforded to married heterosexuals, such as filing joint federal tax returns, requesting medical leave to care for a sick spouse, or sponsoring a non-citizen spouse to immigrate.

President Barack Obama's administration has filed a brief asking the high court to overturn the 1996 law, which it said "violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection" under the 14th Amendment.

The Supreme Court is to hear arguments in a separate gay marriage case, when it reviews on March 26 the constitutionality of California's bid to ban same-sex unions.

The US high court must decide whether to overturn the state's "Proposition 8," a measure approved by referendum in 2008 which outlawed gay marriage.

In that case, Obama's Justice Department last month filed a brief urging that the measure be overturned.