A key piece of US legislation that was enacted to block gay and lesbian couples from getting married has been declared unconstitutional.
A US appeals court in the state of Boston ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act discriminates against homosexuals because it doesn’t allow them the same rights as hexerosexual couples.
The law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that the federal government does not have the authority to deny the recognition of gay marriage. The court said the decision was up to individual states.
Several states have banned gay marriage, another eight as well as the city of Washington DC, have approved it.
Last month, US President Barack Obama publicly supported same-sex unions. Republican candidate for president this autumn Mitt Romney is opposed to them.
Analysts say the ruling will almost certainly wind up before the US Supreme Court.