Appeals Court Rules Federal Anti-Gay Marriage Law Unconstitutional

A federal appeals court deems U.S. law discriminates against gay married couples.

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A U.S. appeals court Thursday ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, discriminates against gay couples and is therefore unconstitutional.

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The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston concurred with a lower court judge who deemed the law unconstitutional because it denies gay married couples many of federal benefits available to heterosexual couples.

The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress in 1996. The law states that same-sex marriages are not recognized by the government for federal purposes such as Social Security, joint tax returns, and insurance benefits. It also says states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages from another states.

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The attorney arguing against the law said defining marriage had been a state issue—not a federal one—for more than 200 years before the law was passed. The opposing attorney defended the law, saying Congress wanted to preserve a uniform definition of marriage, and that the federal government has the power to determine how and to whom federal benefits are administered.

Last year President Barack Obama announced the U.S. Department of Justice would no longer defend the law's constitutionality. Since the law passed in 1996, many states have instituted their own laws against same-sex marriage, most recently North Carolina. Eight states have approved them, with Maryland's law now subject to a state referendum.

Seth Cline is a reporter at US News and World Report. You can contact him at scline@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.