US gay couples benefits ruling

President Obama has welcomed a historic US Supreme Court ruling to allow married gay couples eligible for federal benefits, but stressed it does not change the way religious institutions define marriage.

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Celebrations as landmark ruling asserts gay marriage

Jeff Zarrillo (2nd left) and Paul Katami (3rd left) and their lawyers announce the decision outside the Supreme Court in Washington. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

A crowd of thousands gathered in Washington to celebrate the Supreme Court striking down a part of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples.

The court's 5-4 vote said the Defence of Marriage Act, known as Doma, denied equal protection to same-sex couples.

Crowds cheered as the US Supreme Court announced their decision. Credit: Reuters

The ruling means that previous anti-gay marriage laws denying legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits has been swept away.

Outside court, assembled crowds hugged and celebrated the victory. Credit: James Lawler Duggan/Reuters

The court also upheld a trial court declaration that ruled that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, paving the way for same-sex marriages to continue in the state.

Proposition 8 was approved in 2008 with 52% of the vote and put same-sex marriages on hold.

The verdict read:

"Under Doma, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways.

"Doma's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal."

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