The US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of gay marriage supporters in two crucial cases, saying same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexuals and clearing the way for the resumption of same-sex marriages in California.
Both rulings. by 5-4 margins, do not mean that gay marriage will be permitted throughout the United States; most states still ban it. But they build on the momentum of the gay rights movement in America, where there has been a broad shift in public attitudes, a dozen states adopting gay marriage and a US president, Barack Obama, who has advocated for gay rights. '
In one case the court invalidated provisions of the federal Defence of Marriage Act that has prevented marriage gay couples from receiving a range of tax, health and retirement benefits that are generally available to married people. The vote was 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between the court's conservative and liberal wings, wrote the majority opinion.
The second case was a technical legal ruling that did not address the issues of same-sex marriage. The panel left in place a lower court's ruling striking down California's ban on gay marriage. It found that the defenders of the ban did not have the right to appeal against the decision. But that ruling probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex unions in about a month.
President Obama praised thes decision to strike down the Defence of Marriage Act and said the court "has righted a wrong, and our country is better off for it."
He has told Attorney General Eric Holder to work with others in his administration to make sure federal law reflects the court's decision. He said nothing in the decision changes how religious institutions define and consecrate marriage.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia.
Some in the crowd outside the court hugged and others jumped up and down just the first decision was announced. Many people were on their phones monitoring Twitter, news sites and blogs for word of the decision. And there were cheers as runners came down the steps with the decision in hand.
Chants of "Thank you" and "USA" came from the crowd as plaintiffs in the cases descended the court's marbled steps
Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the Washington district. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal there.