A federal bankruptcy court in California on Monday ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, The New York Times reported.

The decision by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California says the law, which bans federal agencies from recognizing the legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples, violates the equal-protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.

“In this court's judgment, no legally married couple should be entitled to fewer bankruptcy rights than any other legally married couple,” wrote Judge Thomas B. Donovan.

In an unusual move, 19 out of the remaining 23 judges of the central district, also signed Donovan's decision, suggesting they would rule similarly.

Gene Balas and Carlos Morales were legally married in California in 2008 before Proposition 8, California's gay marriage ban, was approved by voters. The California Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the 18,000 gay and lesbian marriages performed before the enactment of the amendment.

The couple filed jointly for bankruptcy after Balas lost his $200,000-a-year job in March, 2009. Trustees overseeing the bankruptcy process moved to dismiss their filing under DOMA. The men petitioned the court to file jointly.

In his ruling, Donovan chided Congress for approving the law.

“Although individual members of Congress have every right to express their views and the views of their constituents with respect to their religious beliefs and principles and their personal standards of who may marry whom this court cannot conclude that Congress is entitled to solemnize such views in the laws of this nation in disregard of the views, legal status and living arrangements of a significant segment of our citizenry that includes the debtors in this case,” Donovan wrote in his 26-page ruling.

House Republicans agreed to take up the law's defense in court after the Obama administration announced it would no longer do so. The administration announced its decision in a strongly-worded letter signed by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Balas and Morales said they cited Holder's letter in pleading their case.

“The Holder Letter,” Donovan wrote in his opinion, “demonstrates that DOMA cannot withstand heightened scrutiny.”

Last July, a federal judge in Boston declared portions of the law unconstitutional.