Gay rights advocates praised the decision, while those supporting the traditional definition of marriage denounced it.
“Society should protect and strengthen marriage, not undermine it,” said Dale Schowengerdt, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund.
“In allowing one state to hold the federal government and potentially other states hostage to redefine marriage, the First Circuit attempts a bridge too far,” he said.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, called the decision “a powerful affirmation that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is an unconstitutional and unjust law whose days are numbered.”
Mr. Wolfson added: “This ruling will return the federal government to its historic role of respecting marriages performed in the states, without carving out a ‘gay exception’ that denies thousands of protections.”
The First Circuit panel stayed its ruling pending further appeals. Appellate lawyers may now either ask all active judges on the First Circuit to re-hear the case, or file an appeal directly to the US Supreme Court.
DOMA was passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. It defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
The definition applies to more than 1,100 federal benefits, including who can file a joint tax return, and whether a federal worker’s same-sex spouse can be covered by government-provided health insurance.
Same-sex couples in Massachusetts filed suit charging the federal law violated their constitutional right to be treated equally compared to heterosexual spouses.