A provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, has been struck down by the country's high court, allowing married gay couples to enjoy the same federal benefits already granted to heterosexual couples.
"DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty," reads the U.S. Supreme Court opinion, in part.
"What this means, in plain terms, is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law -- with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits," said Amy Howe of the SCOTUSblog.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Associated Press. In California, around 18,000 couples were married during a short window in 2008 between a state supreme court decision legalizing it and the passing of Proposition 8, which banned the practice.
The high court also decided on Prop 8, clearing the way for its undoing. U.S. Supreme Court justices found that the defenders of banning gay marriage in court had no standing when appealing a lower court decision that found Prop 8 unconstitutional.
Once again, Amy Howe from SCOTUSblog:
Here's a Plain English take on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage: After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case
The decision, however, does not indicate an opinion either way on the validity of gay marriage bans in more than 30 states, noted the AP.