Gay rights activists in California and across the United States are thrilled with the Obama Administration's decision today to stop defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.

“This is a huge victory for gay and lesbian couples and removes any doubt that the freedom to marry is a constitutional right for all Americans,” says Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, in a prepared statement. AFER organized the federal lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8 in California.

Molly McKay, media director for Marriage Equality U.S.A., says in a press release: “This is a watershed moment as the president of the United States and the attorney general have together taken a powerful stand against this unjust law. We are overjoyed that President Obama has taken concrete measures to fulfill on his pledge to end DOMA.”

The Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, is a federal law that bans marriage between same-sex couples. President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996.

Recently, there have been federal lawsuits to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Justice Department has been defending in court. Today's decision by the Obama Administration to stop that defense is seen as a major shift in the federal government's policy towards gay marriage.

President Barack Obama says he personally supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, but has yet to publicly back same-sex marriage.

Gay rights activists are overjoyed with today's news about DOMA.

In an email to members, Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors writes: “This is HUGE. The Obama Administration has announced that it will no longer defend Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in court because it is unconstitutional.”

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, writes in an email to his members: “It is hard to overstate the significance of today's announcement. The president and the attorney general recognized today what we have been saying in court since the day we opened our doors: Discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation is presumed to be unconstitutional and unconstitutional laws should not be defended.”

AFER president Chad Griffin adds: “The U.S. District Court has already ruled marriage to be a right for all Californians, and now the federal government has sent a clear message that it too sees the freedom to marry as a fundamental constitutional right.”

The Los Angeles-based American Foundation for Equal Rights is currently working on a federal lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008.

AFER won the first round in the widely-followed court case when a federal judge found Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional. The lawsuit is now going through the appeals process.

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