A federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled unconstitutional Thursday the Defense of Marriage Act that denies marriage rights to same-sex couples, building momentum for the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the law's validity.
The 2-to-1 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals drew praise from elected officials and marriage equality advocates who said federal law discriminates against committed gay and lesbian couples.
Lawyer Paul Clement, who had argued in support of the law on behalf of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, was traveling and did not immediately return a request for comment.
The majority opinion written by Judge Dennis Jacobs rejected a section of the law that defines "marriage" as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and that the word "spouse" refers only to a person of the opposite sex.
Earlier this year, a federal appeals court in Boston also found that distinction unconstitutional.The New York case was brought by Edith Windsor, 83, who sued the U.S. government in November 2010 over $363,053 in federal estate taxes after her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer, died in 2009. They had married in Canada in 2007.
The district court ruled in June that DOMA is unconstitutional and the government appealed the case. The appeals court heard arguments in September.Windsor, said during a Manhattan news conference Thursday that she is willing to continue the fight in the higher court.
"I look forward to the day that our federal government will recognize all the marriages of all Americans. Hopefully that will happen during my lifetime," she said.
In a statement, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the appeals court ruling "provides further momentum for national progress."
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of marriage equality, called the ruling "a major step forward."
Nathan Schaefer, director of the Empire State Pride Agenda in Manhattan, said: "It is clear that history is on our side. It makes us hopeful that one day soon all of our marriages will be recognized equally and fully."
Marriage equality advocates cautioned that they can't declare victory, but many feel that the tide is turning in their favor.
"The people and the courts are understanding that the reality of American families is changing," said Karina Claudio Betancourt, a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, a working families advocacy group in Brentwood. "It's no longer just the picket fence family of the mom, the dad, the two kids and the dog."
With AP and Ivan Pereira