WASHINGTON - Two big cases addressing marriage rights for gays and lesbians are on track to reach the US Supreme Court as soon as this year, keeping the focus on an issue President Barack Obama reignited with his endorsement this week.

The cases, originating on opposite US coasts, go to the heart of a question that has churned for two decades: whether states and the federal government may refuse to recognize same-sex marriage.

How the high court would rule is impossible to know. In the court's most recent gay-rights case, the justices in 2003 struck down state anti-sodomy laws as an improper intrusion on private activity.

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