POSTED: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - 9:18am
UPDATED: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - 1:07pm
WASHINGTON, D.C (NBC) — In a landmark ruling for gay rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law blocking federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
The decision was 5-4, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” the ruling said. “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
Cheers went up outside the Supreme Court, where supporters of gay marriage waved signs, rainbow banners and flags with equality symbols.
The law helps determine who is covered by more than 1,100 federal laws, programs and benefits, including Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights and family leave.
The ruling comes as states are authorizing gay marriage with increasing speed — 12 plus the District of Columbia now allow it — and with public opinion having turned narrowly in favor of gay marriage.
Under the law, gay couples who are legally married in their states were not considered married in the eyes of the federal government, and were ineligible for the federal benefits that come with marriage.
The case before the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Windsor, concerned Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a lesbian couple who lived together in New York for 44 years and married in Canada in 2007.
When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was hit with $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Had the couple been considered by the federal government to be married, Windsor would not have incurred those taxes.