The Supreme Court on Friday announced it will hear two cases related to gay marriage.

At its weekly conference, the court agreed to hear Hollingsworth v. Perry, the legal challenge to Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment which put an end to the weddings of gay and lesbian couples taking place in California after the state Supreme Court legalized such unions.

Defenders of Prop 8 appealed February's U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling declaring that the marriage ban violated the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

The appeals court ruled that “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for 'laws of this sort.'” But the court's majority fell short of ruling on whether gay couples have the right to marry.

The Supreme Court also decided it would hear Windsor v. United States.

The case involves Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old lesbian widow who had to pay more than $360,000 in estate taxes after the death of her wife, Thea Spyer, because the government would not recognize their 2007 marriage due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The women shared their lives together for 44 years.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with Windsor's assertion that DOMA is unconstitutional. The 2-1 ruling was also the first to apply heightened scrutiny to the unions of gay couples.

According to court watchers, the Supreme Court has also given itself a way to opt out from deciding either case.

“There is a good deal of complexity in the marriage orders,” SCOTUSblog wrote, “but the bottom line is this: the Court has offered to rule on Prop. 8 and on DOMA Section 3, but it has also given itself a way not to decide either case.”

In the Proposition 8 case, the court has also agreed to address whether proponents had legal standing to pursue their case. If the court declares they did not, then the case is over.

Similarly, the court will decide whether the House of Representatives has a right to defend DOMA in court.

Arguments are likely to be heard in March.