The law barring same-sex marriages from being recognised by the U.S. federal government, the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), has been confirmed as unconstitutional by a federal appeals court.

On Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision that the denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully-married same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

The 3-0 ruling was authored by President George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Boudin for the three judge panel.

The Obama administration has refused to defend the anti-gay law, which was adopted in 1996, in court

“This ruling is a historic victory for loving gay and lesbian couples and their children,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solmonese.

“For the first time, a federal appeals court has recognised that our constitution will not tolerate a law that forces the federal government to deny lawfully-married same-sex couples equal treatment. The writing is clearly on the wall for the demise of this unjust and indefensible law that hurts real families.”

The decision by the federal appeals court is expected to be appealed and is likely to be ultimately decided on by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Currently, six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry in the U.S. DOMA however does not allow the federal government to recognise such marriages or to offer married same-sex couples over 1,100 rights and benefits granted to heterosexual married coupled.

These include Social Security survivor benefits, federal employee health benefits for spouses, protections against spouses losing their homes in cases of severe medical emergencies, the right to sponsor a foreign born partner for immigration, the guarantee of family and medical leave and the ability to file joint tax returns, among many others.

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