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U.S. Supreme Court Strikes down Defense of Marriage Act

Nation's highest court declares DOMA unconstitutional.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) - The Defense of Marriage Act has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 5-4 decision found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The nation's highest court has ruled that same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits previously denied to them.

Click here to read the complete ruling.

In a separate ruling, the justices also rejected an appeal of California's Proposition 8 over same-sex marriage on jurisdictional grounds, ruling that private parties do not have "standing" to defend California's voter-approved ballot measure barring gay and lesbian couples from state-sanctioned wedlock.

The ruling clears the way for same-sex marriages in California to resume.

The 5-4 decision avoids, for now, a sweeping conclusion on whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional "equal protection" right that would apply to all states.

Click here to read the complete ruling.

Gays and lesbians celebrated the historic gains Wednesday, saying the Supreme Court rulings overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and rejecting the appeal of a California marriage ban represent a "joyous milestone."

But they acknowledged much work remains after the Supreme Court declined to make a sweeping statement on same-sex marriage rights by not ruling on the issues in California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages.

"Today's historic decisions put two giant cracks in the dark wall of discrimination that separates committed gay and lesbian couples from full equality," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Commission. He called the rulings "a joyous milestone."

"While we celebrate the victory for Californians today, tomorrow we turn our attention to the millions of LGBT people who don't feel the reach of these decisions," he said.

The court rulings, delivered in separate cases, mean that same-sex couples who marry in states where it's legal for them to do so will be treated the same as heterosexual married couples by the federal government when it comes to things like retirement benefits and taxes.

And while the ruling clears the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, it will have no impact on bans in 35 other states where such marriages are illegal.

The mixed feelings about Wednesday's rulings extended to critics of efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

"We're disappointed in the short-term results and the short-term questions that remain unsettled, but the public conversation continues and that's a good thing," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the Evangelical Church Alliance, which opposes same-sex marriage.

In Arkansas, the conservative group Family Council issued the following news release on its reaction to the rulings:

Family Council: DOMA, Prop. 8 Rulings Not the Best, Far From the Worst

On Wednesday, Family Council President Jerry Cox, issued a statement concerning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and vacate the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision on California’s Proposition Eight.

“Today’s rulings are not as good as we had hoped or as bad as we had feared,” Cox said. “The good news is the court did not find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The court did not strike down any state laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Arkansas’ marriage amendment still stands, as do laws in thirty-seven other states defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“Today’s ruling on DOMA does mean same-sex couples in Arkansas can travel to states where same-sex marriage is legal, get a marriage license, return to Arkansas, and receive federal benefits like joint filing on a federal tax return. It does not mean the State of Arkansas will have to recognize the marriage.”

Cox said the decision leaves a lot of unanswered questions. “Will same-sex couples in the military stationed on bases in the U.S. or overseas be permitted to marry regardless of local laws to the contrary? Will military chaplains be forced to solemnize same-sex marriages regardless of their religious objections? At this point, we do not know.”

Cox said the marriage debate is far from over. “People trying to redefine marriage for the entire nation didn’t get the landmark victory they had hoped for. Americans have spent the better part of the past two decades democratically deciding what is and is not a marriage in their states. Opponents of traditional marriage tried to disenfranchise millions of voters with two court rulings today. That did not happen. Same-sex marriage is not the forgone conclusion many would have us believe it is, but I doubt the debate is going away any time soon.”


Former Governor Mike Huckabee also weighed in on the court's decision, tweeting the following:

  • "5 people in robes said they are bigger than the voters of CA and Congress combined. And bigger than God. May He forgive us all."
  • "My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: 'Jesus wept.'"
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