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Defense of Marriage Act ruled unconstitutional by appeals court

In a unanimous ruling, the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the Defense of Marriage Act discriminates against gay couples.

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A gay pride and an American flag hang from a shoulder bag during a demonstration. On May 31, 2012, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional because it denied same-sex couples federal benefits, even if they were married in states where gay marriage is legal. (Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court declared the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, unconstitutional on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

In a unanimous ruling, the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the law discriminates against gay couples by denying them the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples, said the AP.

The federal law, known as DOMA, defines marriage as between a man and a woman in reference to federal laws and regulations, limiting the access same-sex couples have to benefits such as Social Security survivor benefits and the ability to file joint taxes, according to The Boston Globe.

The ruling is likely to end up in front of the US Supreme Court, approximately nine years after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court approved same-sex marriage, noted The Globe.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said, "Today’s landmark ruling makes clear once again that DOMA is a discriminatory law for which there is no justification. It is unconstitutional for the federal government to create a system of first- and second-class marriages, and it does harm to families in Massachusetts every day."

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Politico noted that the ruling was delayed in part because the Obama administration backtracked, defending DOMA at first but then revising its stance and dropping its defense of the federal law.

The court's opinion read, "[M]any Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and most Americans live in states where that is the law today. One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage."

It continued, "Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress' denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest," according to Politico.

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The court did not rule on the law's other controversial provision, which states that states cannot be forced to recognize same-sex marriages which were performed in other states, noted CBS. The decision also did not address whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

DOMA was passed in 1996 and signed by former President Bill Clinton. Since then, many states have passed bans on same-sex marriage and eight states have legalized it, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington state and the District of Columbia, according to CBS News.

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Here is a video report from MSNBC, explaining the ruling in detail:

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120531/defense-of-marriage-act-unconstitutional-doma-appeals-court