The highest court in Massachusetts ruled on Tuesday that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the state’s constitution.

The ruling is the first time a United States court has granted the term marriage to same-sex couples, The New York Times reported. In 2000 the state of Vermont allowed same-sex couples the right to civil unions, but avoided the term marriage.

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled that lawmakers had six months to amend the state’s marriage laws, allowing same-sex couples to be granted wedding certificates.

One of the named plaintiffs in the case, Hillary Goodridge, said the decision was a profound moment for our family. In a press release issued by New England’s Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), Goodridge said, We will no longer have to try to explain to our eight-year-old daughter why we can’t marry, or that we love each other even though we are not married. And more importantly, we’ll be able to provide Annie with the full protections under marriage that we now can’t possibly provide.

Hillary and Julie Goodridge were one of seven same-sex couples who sued the state after being denied marriage licences. The case was filed by GLAD.

According to US activist group Human Rights Campaign, same-sex couples in Massachusetts who obtain a civil marriage licence will be granted hundreds of state law protections, including unquestioned hospital visitation rights as well as rights to make financial and healthcare decisions for their partner and to file joint state tax returns.

It is unclear whether same-sex married couples will be accorded equivalent recognition and rights in other states. The US activist group Human Rights Campaign announced that by operation of law, all married couples should be protected by more than 1,000 federal laws.

However, the national Defence of Marriage Act passed in 1996 defines couples as consisting of a man and a woman and allows states to discriminate legally against same-sex married couples. This law has yet to be challenged.

US president George W. Bush condemned the Massa-chusetts decision from London, although as a state ruling it cannot be overturned by the federal Supreme Court, AFP reported.

Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman, Bush said. Today’s decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court violates this important principle. I will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage.

Issues of sanctity were not considered relevant by the Massachusetts court, however, with Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall writing that the ruling was based on whether existing discrimination was unconstitutional.

The ruling is the latest in a series of victories for gay and lesbian activists. In September a bill was passed in California granting same-sex domestic partners many rights afforded to married couples. The US Supreme Court also ruled in July that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional.

In her ruling, Marshall wrote: That same-sex couples are willing to embrace marriage’s solemn obligations of exclusivity, mutual support and commitment to one another is a testament to the enduring place of marriage in our laws and in the human spirit.

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