In what is seen as a major victory for the gay-rights movement, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the federal government may not restrict the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.
The court ruling means legally married gay men and women are entitled to claim the same federal benefits that are available to heterosexual married couples, such as tax, health and pension benefits.
The decision invalidated a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, but does not require individual states to recognize same-sex marriages that may be legal in other states.
Same-sex marriage is legal, or soon will be, in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
In another case, the court said a lower-court ruling that struck down a California same sex-marriage ban could not be appealed, meaning gay marriages may resume in the state.
But the high court did not rule on the overall validity of gay marriage bans in California or three dozen other states.
The justices’ decisions, both on a 5-4 vote, were revealed in their last session before the court’s summer break.
The federal marriage law, known by its acronym DOMA, defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The law easily passed Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
In 2011, the Obama administration abandoned its defense of the law, but continued to enforce it. President Barack Obama subsequently endorsed gay marriage in 2012.
(Photo: Patrik Millikin/sxc.hu)