WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote Wednesday. DOMA defined marriage at the federal level as only being between a man and a woman, thus barring same-sex married couples from the 1,138 benefits related to marital status.

While the decision does not affect same-sex couples living in states that do not recognize their union, Maxine Eichner, professor of law at UNC-Chapel Hill, says the ruling could be used to build a case for marriage equality in future cases.

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“The language in the decision will provide strong ammunition to challenge bans on same-sex marriage in the remaining states,” Eichner said.

In addition to the DOMA decision, the Supreme Court also ruled in Perry v. Hollingsworth that the defendant in the Prop 8 case did not have proper standing. Therefore, the previous ruling that did have standing in California remains, which ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional.

While the high court’s decision not to rule on the case means that same-sex marriage is now legal in California and does not affect any other states, Eichner says this likely would have been the outcome if the Supreme Court had taken up the case anyway.

“If the Supreme Court ruled on the merits of the Perry case and adopted the rationale of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it would have said very little about North Carolina,” Eichner said. “Because the Ninth Circuit’s decision in that case was very narrowly based.”

North Carolina amended the state’s constitution to say that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” on May 8, 2012 with passing of Amendment One.