The decision was 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court’s liberals to form the majority. It did not address the question of whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriages.
But the court said it violated equal protection to provide benefits to heterosexual couples while denying them to gay couples in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex couples can marry.
“DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” Kennedy wrote.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
The law passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton recognized marriage as only between one man and one woman. It passed at a time when same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the world.
Kennedy was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.