New York (CNN) - A federal appeals court in New York became the nation's second to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, finding that the Clinton-era law's denial of federal benefits to married same-sex couples is unconstitutional.
The divisive act, which was passed in 1996, bars federal recognition of such marriages and says other states cannot be forced to recognize them.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined Thursday that the federal law violates the Constitution's equal protection clause, ruling in favor of a widow named Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old lesbian who sued the federal government for charging her more than $363,000
The case centered on the money Windsor wanted back, but raised the more looming question of whether the federal government can continue to ignore a state's recognition of her marriage and financially penalize her as a result.
"Homosexuals are not in a position to adequately protect themselves from the discriminatory wishes of the majoritarian public," wrote Dennis Jacobs, a conservative judge in New York.
A federal appeals court in Boston made a similar ruling in May, but the moves are considered largely symbolic as the issue is expected to eventually be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.