U.S. Supreme Court (Getty Images)
(CBS NEWS) -- In two different cases this week, the Supreme Court will consider the powerful question of what it means to be married.
On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry -- a case considering the constitutionality of California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8. The next day, the court will hear arguments in United States v. Windsor, which challenges the constitutionality of a section in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Both cases are profoundly important for the gay rights community and those interested in defending a "traditional" definition of marriage. One, however, has the chance to be a truly monumental case.
"The Proposition 8 case has the chance to be a landmark decision that fundamentally changes the law and the status of gay people in America," UCLA School of Law Prof. Adam Winkler told CBSNews.com. "The Prop. 8 case has the potential to be the Brown v. Board of Education for gay rights."
In the Prop. 8 case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to rule on the fundamental issue of whether same-sex couples have a constitutionally-protected right to get married. The DOMA case is more limited in scope -- rather than considering who has the right to marry, the case considers whether legally married gay couples should have access to the federal benefits afforded to married straight couples.
"It's absolutely true the [Prop. 8] case has the potential for broader ramifications in terms of same-sex couples having access to marriage... But there are a whole host of rights and benefits -- and many of the ones people think about with respect to marriage -- that come to people through federal benefits," Brian Moulton, legal director for the gay rights advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, told CBSNews.com. "It's incredibly important couples be able to get married across the country, but also incredibly important they're able to access things like immigration rights, Social Security benefits [and] joint income tax filings."
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