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. It said that the law amounted to the “deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
In a separate case, the court ruled that it could not take up a challenge to Proposition 8, the California law that banned gay marriage in that state. That decision means that gay marriage will once again be legal in California.
The ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act means that the federal government must recognize the gay marriages deemed legal by the states — 12 plus the District of Columbia, before the California case was decided.
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.
“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. It added that the law was invalid because there was no legitimate purpose for disparaging those whom states “sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”