The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday (June 26) handed a significant victory to gay rights advocates by ruling that married gay men and women are eligible for federal benefits and paving the way for same-sex marriage in California.

The court, however, fell short of a landmark ruling endorsing a fundamental right for gay people to marry.

The two cases concerned the constitutionality of a key part of a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that denied benefits to same-sex married couples and a California state law enacted in 2008, called Proposition 8, that banned gay marriage.

The court struck down a central part of DOMA and let stand a lower-court ruling throwing out California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

President Barack Obama applauded the court's DOMA decision and directed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review all relevant federal laws to ensure the ruling is implemented.

Gay marriage advocates celebrated outside the courthouse. An enormous cheer went up as word arrived that DOMA had been struck down.

"I'm thrilled that DOMA has been struck down it's long overdue. Rhonda and I have been together for 33 years and until today, that meant nothing to this country, and now finally it does," Diane Ullius said.

The court struck down the federal law as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law but ducked a ruling on Proposition 8 by finding that supporters of the law did not have standing to appeal a federal district court ruling that struck the law down.

While the ruling on DOMA was clear cut, questions remained about what exactly the Proposition 8 ruling will mean on the ground. There is likely to be more litigation over whether the district court ruling applies state-wide.

Defenders of California's ban on gay marriage vowed to seek continued enforcement until a state-wide order is issued.

Presented by Adam Justice

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