WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS SF) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a federal provision denying benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
The court on Wednesday invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, which had prevented wed gay couples from receiving a range of tax, health and retirement benefits that are generally available to married people. The vote was 5-4.
Supreme Court Strikes Down Federal Defense Of Marriage Act; Prop 8 Proponents React
President Barack Obama applauded the decision, saying the court "has righted a wrong, and our country is better off for it."
"This was discrimination enshrined in law," he said in statement issued by the White House. "We are a people who declared that we are all created equal - and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
The high court ruled DOMA was unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.
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"DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion. He was joined by the court's four liberal justices.
The opinion continued: "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others."
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
Scalia said the court should not have decided the case. But, given that it did, he said, "we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation."
Outside along the court's marbled steps, supporters of same-sex marriage burst into cheers of "DOMA is Dead" when the decision was announced. It was followed by chants of "Thank you" and "USA."
Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal in the Golden State.
California's now expected to resume same-sex marriages within weeks, and perhaps days, after the Supreme Court also ruled Wednesday that holding that defenders of Proposition 8 gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings striking it down.
President Obama telephoned his congratulations to gay rights advocate Chad Griffin and the plaintiffs in the California case.
"Through your courage, you're helping out a whole lot of people." Obama told them.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also hailed both high court rulings on marriage equality Wednesday as an important step in history.
"From the start, many of us had believed that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Today, the Supreme Court agreed and justice was done for thousands of LGBT families nationwide," she said. "From the start, many of us had believed that Prop. 8 had no place in in the state of California. Today, the Supreme Court agreed that justice will be done for loving LGBT couples across my home state."
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) agreed. Like Pelosi, Boxer too had opposed DOMA when Congress passed the now-overturned measure into law.
"Today my spirits are soaring because the Supreme Court reaffirmed the promise of America by rejecting two blatantly unconstitutional measures that discriminated against millions of our families," Boxer told reporters. "I was proud to have voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and it is so heartening to see that the federal government will now treat all marriages equally. And because of the Court's ruling on Proposition 8, millions of Californians will be able to marry the person they love – with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with it."
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