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Supreme Court Grants Two Historic Rulings In Favor Of Gay Marriage

American University students Sharon Burk, left, and Molly Wagner participate in a rally for rights for gay couples in front of the Supreme Court in Washington.

American University students Sharon Burk, left, and Molly Wagner participate in a rally for rights for gay couples in front of the Supreme Court in Washington.  (AP2013)

In significant but incomplete victories for gay rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a provision of federal law denying benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.

The justices issued two 5-4 rulings in their final session of the term. One decision wiped away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits (the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA).

The other was a technical legal ruling that said nothing at all about same-sex marriage, but left in place a trial court's declaration that California's Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. That outcome probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex weddings in the nation's most populous state, in about a month.

California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued a statement immediately following the ruling directing the California Department of Public Health to "advise the state's counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is limited."

California's Attorney General Kamala D. Harris backed the Governor and said the state "can and should" instruct county officials that they "must resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex" couples.

"We are ecstatic, it is a civil rights issue, specifically for the Latino community it definitely reflects the growing sentiment in the community that regardless of who you love or where you're from that this country is affirming our rights," said Jesse Melgar, spokesperson for HONOR PAC, an organization that advocates for the political empowerment of Hispanic LGBT communities.

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the legality of same sex marriage goes hand in hand with the shifting attitudes in the Latino community about same sex marriage.

In 2012, for the first time, Latinos said they favored same-sex marriage than opposed it, by a 52 percent to 34 percent margin, according to Pew Hispanic Center. This is a drastic change from 2006, when nearly one-third of Latinos favored same sex-sex marriage and more than half opposed it.

The shift goes hand in hand with 53 percent of the general population which, according to the latest Gallup poll, support same sex marriage.

"It's a huge day," said Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We are closer to equality under the law that our constitution promises."

But, noted Serrano, a lot more needs to be done to deliver same-sex equality across the entire country.

"We have to remember this is only marriage, people can still get fired for their sexual orientation," he said.

A ruling against DOMA allows legally married gay couples or, in some cases, a surviving spouse in a same-sex marriage, to receive benefits and tax breaks resulting from more than 1,000 federal statutes in which marital status is relevant.

For 83-year-old Edith Windsor, a New York widow whose case is before the court, such a ruling would give her a refund of $363,000 in estate taxes that were paid after the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer.

The situation could become complicated for people who get married where same-sex unions are legal, but who live or move where they are not.

President Barack Obama hailed the Supreme Court's decision to strike down DOMA on Wednesday, declaring the court "has righted a wrong, and our country is better off for it."

Obama decided in 2011 to stop defending the 1996 law, concluding that it was legally indefensible.In a statement issued while he was flying on Air force One to Africa Wednesday, Obama said he had directed Attorney General Eric Holder to work with others in his administration to make sure federal law reflects the court's decision.

"This was discrimination enshrined in law," he said. "We are a people who declared that we are all created equal - and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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