WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law blocking federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
The landmark ruling for gay rights came in a 5 to 4 decision and opponents of the law reacted with cheers outside the court.
Wednesday's decision means the federal government must now recognize the same sex marriages deemed legal 12 states and the District of Columbia.
The ruling will help determine who is covered by more than 1,000 federal laws and benefits, including social security survivor benefits and family leave.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was joined in the majority by justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
Writing for the majority, Kennedy said the Defense of Marriage Act amounted to "the deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the fifth amendment."
President Obama wrote on his twitter account that the ruling was a "historic step forward for marriage equality."
In a statement released Wednesday, Governor Pat Quinn urged lawmakers to once again take up same-sex marriage in Illinois.
"Members of the Illinois House now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois,” said Quinn.“This is a monumental day for freedom in the history of our nation. The opportunity to guarantee equal rights and benefits to all citizens - under both state and federal law - is one we must seize here in the Land of Lincoln without delay.”
Illinois legalized civil unions for same-sex couples in 2011. Since then, nearly 5,200 couples across 94 counties have joined in a civil union.
Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Representative Greg Harris and Senator Heather Steans, would have established equal access to status, benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities for same-sex and different-sex couples entering into marriage.
The bill passed the Illinois Senate on February 14, and was not brought to a vote in the Illinois House.