Supreme Court strikes down part of Defense of Marriage Act

WASHINGTON (ABC) - The Supreme Court has 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 5-4 decision.

"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.

Crowds outside the Supreme Court could be heard erupting in applause as news of the court's ruling spread.

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.