The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear four cases with the potential to legalize gay marriage nationwide will impact Texas' own legal fight over same-sex unions. But how exactly is unclear. 

The high court announced on Friday that it would consider gay marriage cases from four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld those states' same-sex marriage bans in November, creating a split among appellate courts — often a precursor to Supreme Court consideration. Gay marriage is legal in 36 states and Washington, D.C., in many cases because of legal rulings.

Texas' same-sex marriage case was heard in the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week after a U.S. district judge in San Antonio struck down the ban last February. The judge immediately issued a stay to prevent his ruling from going into effect. 

The Supreme Court's decision to take up the matter could have several possible effects on the Texas case: 

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  • At the very least, the Supreme Court's ruling — which will likely come in June — will make the 5th Circuit's decision in the Texas case less consequential, said Aaron Bruhl, an associate law professor at the University of Houston. The 5th Circuit could issue its decision in the case in a few weeks.
  • The Supreme Court's action on Friday could also delay the 5th Circuit's decision in the Texas case. "It is possible that at this point [the 5th Circuit] could say, 'Whatever we say, the authoritative decision is going to come not too much later than we would rule anyway. Maybe we should just wait,'" Bruhl said. 
  • Lawyers for each side in the Texas case have said they hope the 5th Circuit rules before the U.S. Supreme Court. Bruhl said it's possible the parties in the case will ask the court to issue a ruling even though the Supreme Court has taken up the issue again. 

Disclosure: The University of Houston is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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