The New York Times is reporting that a federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed by Congress in 1996, is unconstitutional as it discriminates against same-sex married couples by denying them certain benefits.
The ruling dealt specifically with the question of federal benefits for same-sex couples, The New York Times reports. Under the Defense of Marriage Act, heterosexual couples are afforded benefits that same-sex couples are not.
According to USA Today, Thursday's decision by a 3 judge panel in Boston was unanimous.
The ruling is a victory for gay-rights advocates and the Obama Administration, the LA Times reports, but nothing is official. Thursday's decision will likely be heard by the Supreme Court next year. The Supreme Court is the only court which can overturn an Act of Congress.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, and defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Last year, President Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder announced they would not defend the part of the Act which denies equal federal benefits to legally married same sex couples, the LA Times reports.
This is the first time an appeals court has declared a federal law unconstitutional, The New York Times reports.
The Boston judges stressed that their decision does not establish a national right to gay marriage. It focuses solely on same-sex couple benefits, the LA Times reports. The judges said the right to gay marriage is an issue for the states to make.
According to The NY Times, supporters of the law said they hope the Supreme Court will reverse Thursday's ruling.
"Society should protect and strengthen marriage, not undermine it." said Dale Schowengerdt, counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a group of Christian lawyers.
He said the ruling allowed one state (Massachusetts in this case) to hold the federal government and potentially other states "hostage." Schowengerdt said that "under this rationale, if just one state decided to accept polygamy, the federal government and perhaps other states would be forced to accept it too."
Washington attorney Paul Clement was hired by House Republicans led by John Boehner, to defend the law in Boston Thursday, the LA Times reports.
Mary L. Bonauto argued case for the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
According to The NY Times, Massachusetts Attorney General said Thursday that DOMA is a "discriminatory law for which there is no justification." In 2009, under Coakley's direction, Massachusetts became the first state to formally complain about DOMA being unconstitutional.