A federal appeals court in Boston on Thursday ruled that a law prohibiting the government from recognizing legal same-sex marriage unconstitutionally prevents gays and lesbian partners from receiving a host of benefits.

In a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals said there was no reason to block married same-sex couples from the federal benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy. A panel of three judges, two of whom are Republican appointees, unanimously backed the federal employees from Massachusetts who filed the suit.

Congress' denial of Federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest, the judges ruled. Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years call for closer scrutiny of government action touching upon minority group interests and of federal action in areas of traditional state concern [like defining marriage].

President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Congress passed DOMA into law in 1996 after the Hawaii Supreme Court first raised the prospect of legal gay marriage. President Barack Obama has said DOMA is unconstitutional and ordered his administration to stop defending it in court, leaving that task to a legal group formed by GOP-led House of Representatives.