Same-sex spouses in states where gay marriage is recognized are now entitled to the same federal benefits and protections as opposite-sex couples, ruled the Supreme Court in a landmark decision on Wednesday.
The Court struck down the part of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, that prohibits federal recognition of any marriage that's not between one man and one woman on the grounds it violated the equal protection rights in the U.S. Constitution.
The case, United States v. Windsor, was a 5-4 decision.
"DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," writes Justice Anthony Kennedy in a majority opinion joined by justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. "The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person."
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented in a series of different opinions.
“In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us," Scalia said in his dissent. "The truth is more complicated."
DOMA was passed in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, and received bipartisan support from 85 senators.
The court also ruled that the appelant parties in the case on Prop. 8, regarding California's same-sex marriage ban, didn't have standing to appeal the trial court's decision. In effect, the ruling clears the way for gay marriage in California, based on the decision of the federal district court.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision on the behalf of the majority in another 5-4 decision.
The final decision now rests on the California state judicial system, where "state and federal judges and the state's top officials have said same sex-marriage is a matter of equal rights," according to the Los Angeles Times.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has vowed to uphold the court's ruling.
"Given arguments that Prop 8's proponents have consistently advanced, my office is prepared to litigate immediately against any effort to limit or delay the restoration of marriage equality for all Californians," Herrera said to the San Francisco Herald.
California would become the thirteenth state to allow gay marriage.