By Chris McGreal, Guardian UK
A federal appeals court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act – Congress’s key legislation to block gay marriage – as unconstitutional in a ruling that will propel the issue to the Supreme Court.
The Boston-based first district appeals court upheld a lower court decision that gay marriage is a matter for individual states to decide and that the federal government does not have the authority to deny recognition of same-sex unions.
It is the highest court to date to strike down the 1996 act, known as DOMA, which denies gay married couples federal benefits and protections given to heterosexuals such as health coverage, social security payments and medical leave.
A host of states have passed their own bans on gay marriage, but eight states and the District of Columbia have authorized same-sex unions.
The ruling, in a case brought by same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts, is likely to sharpen the political debate over the issue during the presidential election campaign following Barack Obama’s historic statement of support for gay marriage.
The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization pressing for equality, called the ruling historic.
“For the first time, a federal appeals court has recognized that our constitution will not tolerate a law that forces the federal government to deny lawfully -married same-sex couples equal treatment. The writing is clearly on the wall for the demise of this unjust and indefensible law that hurts real families,” said the HRC president, Joe Solmonese.
The ruling was authored by a judge widely regarded as conservative, Michael Boudin, who was appointed by President George Bush Sr.