Oregon officials and others praised Wednesday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the federal act adopted in 1996 was unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment’s right to equal protection. The court’s decision by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the federal act limited the way states could recognize marriage or civil unions, creating unequal classes of people who could have civil unions but not the benefits of legal marriage.

Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley called the decision “a huge stride forward for equality and fairness.”

“No one should be denied equal rights because of whom they love and discrimination has no place in our laws,” said Merkley, a Democrat from Portland.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici said the Supreme Court's decision was "a historic moment for America and another leap toward equal rights for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation."

"As a nation, we have finally arrived at the obvious conclusion that the validity of a marriage is not subject to popular vote, but instead guaranteed as a matter of right," said Bonamici, a Beaverton Democrat representing Oregon's 1st Congressional District. "Love has replaced hate as the governing factor in the decision of same sex couples to marry.”

Vaune Albanese, executive director of Portland’s Friendly House, which operates the SAGE Metro Portland program for lesbian and gay older adults, said the Defense of Marriage Act decision was a relief to many older gay people in the region.

“This will be a day people in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community will remember for the rest of our lives,” Albanese said. “SAGE members in their 80s and 90s have wondered if this day would come in their lifetimes.”

Wednesday’s decision was based on a New York case involving two women, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who were legally married in Ontario, Canada, in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, the Defense of Marriage Act prevented Windsor from claiming the estate tax exemption for a surviving spouse.

Windsor paid the taxes and challenged the law in federal court.

Also on Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal on California's Proposition 8, which denied same-sex couples the right to marry. That decision effectively ended California's ban on same-sex marriage because it affirmed a federal court ruling overturning the ban.

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