Today, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held unconstitutional a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining “marriage” exclusively as opposite-sex unions, setting up an all-but-certain Supreme Court case for next year.

Acting in response to a Hawaii Supreme Court decision stating that the Constitution may require that same-sex and opposite-sex unions be treated alike, in 1996 Congress passed DOMA, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. Remarkably brief by today’s standards, DOMA has only three sections: Section 1 is the title. Section 2 grants each state a plenary indulgence against being legally required to recognize a same-sex marriage recognized by another state. Section 3—which the First Circuit addressed—defines the term “marriage” for purposes of federal law as meaning only opposite-sex unions.

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