A Boston appeals court ruled this morning the heart of a law that denies federal benefits to gay married couples is unconstitutional, leaving open the likelihood the case will head for the Supreme Court.

From a report by The Associated Press:

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminates against married same-sex couples by denying them federal benefits.

The law was passed in 1996 at a time when it appeared Hawaii would legalize gay marriage. Since then, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, while eight states have approved it, led by Massachusetts in 2004.

The appeals court agreed with a lower court judge who ruled in 2010 that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns.

The 1st Circuit said its ruling would not be enforced until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the case, meaning same-sex married couples will not be eligible to receive the economic benefits denied by DOMA until the high court rules.