Bob Egelko
Updated 10:51 p.m., Friday, November 30, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court was unexpectedly silent Friday about whether it will take its first look at same-sex marriage, in cases involving California’s Proposition 8 and a law banning federal recognition and benefits for married same-sex couples.

The court could take action Monday, and among the possibilities are an order that would clear the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in California within the week. Friday’s inaction, however, could also be a signal that the justices need more time to plot their course on the issue.

Prop. 8, the November 2008 initiative that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2010 and by a federal appeals court in February, but remains in effect while its sponsors seek Supreme Court review.

When the court met Friday for its weekly private conference, in which it decides whether to review hundreds of appeals of rulings by lower courts, the Prop. 8 case was on the agenda along with five cases on the 1996 federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

That law denies more than 1,000 spousal benefits, including joint tax filing, Social Security survivor payments and immigration sponsorship, to same-sex couples who married under the laws of their states.

It has been declared unconstitutional by two federal appeals courts and a number of U.S. District Court judges, including two in the Bay Area. Those courts have generally found that Congress engaged in discrimination by departing from the federal government’s usual practice of respecting a state’s definition of marriage.

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