On Thursday, a Boston federal appeals court ruled the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it denies equal benefits to gay and lesbian couples. Legal experts believe the gay marriage question will come to the U.S. Supreme Court sometime before the end of the year.
The unanimous three-judge decision marks the first time an appeals court has declared the federal law unconstitutional.
While both sides wait to see whether the Supreme Court takes the case — Ms. Bonauto said that every expert she had talked to predicted it would — the ruling will not be enforced, meaning that same-sex couples cannot begin to collect federal benefits.
The first circuit covers Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.
Since DOMA was passed, eight states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage; the states are Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington. Maryland and Washington’s laws are not yet in effect.
President Obama campaigned against the law in 2008 and said in 2011 that his administration would not defend it. That has left the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, appointed by the Republican majority in the House, to defend the case. The group has said that Congress wanted to preserve DOMA because it provided a traditional and uniform definition of marriage, helping the federal government to distribute federal benefits.
The case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, was originally filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of several married same-sex couples and widowers in Massachusetts in 2009.