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Mass. political leaders applaud DOMA ruling

At the downtown Boston offices of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lee Swislow said she and others at the civil rights group are both elated and in disbelief that the US Supreme Court has embraced same-sex marriage.

“We are feeling a great joy tinged with a touch of disbelief that this day finally came,’’ said Swislow, the executive director of the organization, which has spent more than 20 years seeking equal rights for same-sex couples in courtrooms across the country.

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It was GLADthat successfully convinced the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to issue its historic ruling in 2003, in the Goodridge case, that concluded for the first time that denying people same-sex marriage rights was a violation of their constitutional rights.

The US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling today, struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman for federal purposes.

Swislow said activists knew that after the victory in Goodridge, the next step was to “tackle DOMA.”

Governor Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino also released statements applauding the court.

“By affirming the principle that people come before their government as equals, today’s Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA is a win for the American people,’’ Patrick said

Menino said that in the weeks and months ahead “the nation will realize what we in Boston and Massachusetts have long known: we should be free to marry the person we love. We are one Boston – a victory for our gay and lesbian friends is a victory for all of us. Diversity is the great strength of our city and our country.’’

Coakley said today that the court was right to see DOMA as a violation of the rights of same-sex couple guaranteed them by the US Constitution.

“This ruling is a victory for equality and civil rights for all,” Coakley said in a statement.

At the office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, staffers were so overwhelmed by the historic ruling that they wept.

“There are so many tears here. We are so excited, so happy,’’ said Carol Rose, executive director of the organization. “This is a huge and historic victory for all freedom-loving people in America.’’

“The fact that the court decided this on equal protection grounds means that the freedom we enjoy in Massachusetts will be taken to the entire country,’’ Rose said. “There is a momentum now.”

Coakley said the majority’s decision means that federal benefits, such as Social Security, can no longer be denied to same-sex spouses.

“By striking down DOMA, the highest court has ensured that married same-sex couples are treated equally under federal law,’’ Coakley said in the statement. “Thousands of families throughout Massachusetts and the nation will no longer be denied social security, medical benefits or other fundamental protections simply because of who they love.’’

Coakley’s office challenged DOMA in federal court in 2009, but the Supreme Court decided to hear a different challenge. Coakley’s office submitted a “friend of the court” brief in the case.

“I am proud of Massachusetts’ leadership on this important issue that will have a direct impact on so many people’s lives. The institution of marriage is only strengthened when we embrace marriage equality,’’ Coakley said. “Today’s decision is another major step on the march toward equality for all.”

Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at alyssa.botelho@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlyssaABotelho.

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