Nightly News   |  June 26, 2013

A scramble to change federal rules after gay rights ruling

The Supreme Court’s decision will have an immediate impact on tens of thousands of same-sex couples nationwide. Although the justices did not order all states to allow same-sex marriage, the decision to strike down the key part of the Defense of Marriage Act was greeted with joy by those who had challenged the law. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> good evening. gay couples across this country were today handed a sweeping victory by a majority of the justices of the supreme court . took on two cases, one to allow married partners ll federal benefits , the other having to do with gay marriage in california . like so many other things in modern times , the framers of the constitution could not have foreseen this issue. made no mention of same-sex couples in the constitution, and while the justices did not suddenly make gay marriage the law of the land , they did strike down barriers in the states that have allowed it so far in the most important ruling ever on gay rights . we have it all covered with pete williams at the court.

>> reporter: brian, good evening. they didn't go as far as gay rights advocates hoped. didn't order all states to allow same-sex marriage but it will have an immediate impact on tens of thousands of gay couples nationwide. gay rights supporters cheered the decision. first striking down a law passed by congress in 1996 , the defense of marriage act , known as doma .

>> doma is dead

>> reporter: it blocked the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and depriving couples of benefits other couples have. in a 5-4 ruling, they said doma serves no legitimate government purpose and demeans those who are in a lawful same-sex marriage and humiliating tens of thousands of children raised by same-sex couples . eddie windsor, socked with a $360,000 tax bill, when her spouse died, leaving her the estate. doma blocked the irs from considering them married and exempt from state taxes.

>> we won everything we asked and hoped for. wow. i'm honored and humbled and overjoyed to be here today.

>> reporter: in the second 5-4 decision, this time by chief justice roberts , the court tossed out an appeal involving proposition 8. it stopped same-sex marriage in california . the people that put prop 8 on the ballot had no authority to appeal as a lower court struck it down unconstitutional. it's not enough to have a keen interest in the case to file an appeal. instead, someone must have suffered a concrete injury he said, and the prop 8 supporters didn't have it. for the two california couples who challenged the law, that's the answer they wanted.

>> now we will be married and equal to every other family in california .

>> today is a good day . today i finally get to look at the man that i love and finally say, will you please marry me?

>> reporter: a short time later, their interview on msnbc was interviewed by a call from the president on air force one.

>> thank you so much for your support.

>> be very proud of today, and, you know, you're -- you have affected a whole lot of people everywhere.

>> reporter: p

>> reporter: opponents did take some comfort.

>> i am relieved this debate will go on.

>> reporter: with a boost of to one side on scotus blog.

>> they give marriage a moral underpinning, with the supreme court saying forcefully, these relationships deserve equal treatment under the law.

>> reporter: california has to wait at least a month before resuming same-sex marriage to let the court process play out. and the obama administration is rewriting hundreds of key rules now that doma is dead.

>> and chief justice kennedy becomes the leading voice. pete, thank you for leading us off.