WASHINGTON, DC (ABC NEWS) - The Supreme Court today ruled that a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the court striking down section 3 of DOMA in a landmark 5-4 decision that will have wide repercussions across America.
"DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government," Kennedy said. "Under DOMA same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways."
"By its great reach DOMA touches many aspects of married life from the mundane to the profound," he added.
The case involved a challenge to the 1996 law that passed with wide majorities and that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their states.
The ruling prohibits the federal government from denying benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in the 11 states that recognize same-sex marriages.
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"DOMA's avowed purpose and practical effect are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States," Kennedy wrote in an opinion that was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Crowds outside the Supreme Court could be heard erupting in applause as news of the court's ruling spread.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented along with conservative Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, read his dissent from the bench.
He said that he does not believe the court had the jurisdiction to hear the case at all.
"There are two parts to the majority's opinion, the first explaining why this Court has jurisdiction to decide the question, and the second deciding it," Scalia said. "Both of them are wrong, and the error in both springs from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this Court in American democratic society."
The Supreme Court will hand down rulings today in two highly-anticipated gay marriage cases, one that challenges Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and another that challenged a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.