Win for same-sex marriage in Supreme Court rulings

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Gays and lesbians celebrated historic gains Wednesday in their fight against laws limiting same-sex marriages, saying Supreme Court rulings overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and rejecting the appeal of a California marriage ban represent a "joyous milestone."

Kirsty Hood, left, and Nora Tavitian celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in West Hollywood, Calif. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

But they acknowledged much work remains after the Supreme Court declined to make a sweeping statement on same-sex marriage rights by not ruling on the issues in California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages.

"Today's historic decisions put two giant cracks in the dark wall of discrimination that separates committed gay and lesbian couples from full equality," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Commission. He called the rulings "a joyous milestone."

"While we celebrate the victory for Californians today, tomorrow we turn our attention to the millions of LGBT people who don't feel the reach of these decisions," he said.

The court rulings, delivered in separate cases, mean that same-sex couples who marry in states where it's legal for them to do so will be treated the same as heterosexual married couples by the federal government when it comes to things like retirement benefits and taxes.

And while the ruling clears the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, it will have no impact on bans in 35 other states where such marriages are illegal.

The mixed feelings about Wednesday's rulings extended to critics of efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

"We're disappointed in the short-term results and the short-term questions that remain unsettled, but the public conversation continues and that's a good thing," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the Evangelical Church Alliance, which opposes same-sex marriage.

"The ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents' marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better," Obama said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D- WA, called the Wednesday a "historic day for equal rights."

"Our state was a trailblazer in recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry and helped in setting the stage for this historic ruling," she said.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn also issued a statement on the DOMA ruling, saying "love and equality prevail."

"I thank the Supreme Court for overturning the clearly unconstitutional and unjust Defense of Marriage Act," McGinn said. King County Executive Dow Constantine also applauded the rulings.

Here is the full release of the DOMA ruling:

Here is the full release from the Proposition 8 ruling: