Twelve states recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry, but since 1996 the federal government has ensured that those couples were treated as second-class citizens, ineligible for the same federal benefits and rights that other married couples received as a matter of course. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to this discriminatory practice, a decision that can rightfully be celebrated as a victory for gay rights.
The court’s 5-4 decision struck down a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for the federal government’s purposes as “only a legal union between one man and one woman.” While state governments generally define marriage for their residents, this federal law meant that same-sex spouses were barred from equal access to federal health care benefits, bankruptcy protections, Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits, and many other privileges enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
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