Clintons welcome US high court ruling on gay marriage

Former president Bill Clinton on Wednesday hailed the US Supreme Court's decision to strike down a law denying federal benefits to gay couples that he signed in 1996 when at the White House.

"By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the Court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union," Clinton said in a joint statement with his wife, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

"We are also encouraged that marriage equality may soon return to California," they added.

"We applaud the hard work of the advocates who have fought so relentlessly for this day, and congratulate Edie Windsor on her historic victory."

The Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and woman, was signed into law by the Democrat in September 1996 after having been passed by a Republican-dominated Congress.

Historians consider Clinton's decision not to veto the law to be a political calculation two months before he defeated Republican challenger Bob Dole to win a second term in office.

The New York Times has described it as one of Clinton's "worst policy moments." He has since spoken out in favor of its reversal.

Hillary Clinton, who many believe could run for president in the 2016 election, spoke out in favor of marriage equality in a video distributed in March by the non-profit Human Rights Campaign.