Update, 11:25 a.m.: California gay rights activists respond to DOMA ruling, after the jump.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act has been found unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in Boston, Massachusetts. The U.S. Supreme Court may weigh in on the ruling.

“Under current Supreme Court authority,” writes U.S. District Judge Michael Boudin, “Congress' denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”

The Obama administration had decided to not defend the anti-gay marriage law in federal court, previously determining it was unconstitutional.

DOMA, as it's commonly known, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton at a time when he was running for re-election in 1996.

The law has caused problems for gay and lesbian couples who live in states where gay marriage or civil unions are legal. While they are recognized as legal partners and have many, if not all, the same rights as heterosexual couples on the state level, that has not been true on the federal level.

In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama was campaigning for president, he promised a repeal of DOMA. Obama has already followed through on the 2008 campaign promise to end “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” the ban on allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

Update: California gay rights activists are praising today's DOMA ruling.

American Foundation For Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer, who leads the group that's seeking to overturn Proposition 8 in federal court, says:

“Today's momentous decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals is yet another example of the clear pattern of consistent recognition among federal courts that marriage inequality–by any level of government–violates our nation's core constitutional principles. Whether it is California's Proposition 8 or the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, court after court has affirmed that marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is unfair, unjust, and unconstitutional.”

Marriage Equality USA Legal Director John Lewis says:

“We are hopeful that soon all loving, committed same-sex couples, who are legally married in their home states, will no longer be excluded from the over 1,000 rights and responsibilities that all other married couples have under federal law. The First Circuit Court of Appeals looked closely for any interest that could possibly justify this exclusion, and it found none. DOMA cannot stand.”

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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