A federal appeals court in New York ruled Thursday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The ruling, by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is the second decision by a court to rule DOMA as unconstitutional, according to The Associated Press. The controversial law, which went into effect in 1996, defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. Under the law, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages conducted in states that have legalized same-sex and civil unions.

The Manhattan court's decision upholds a previous ruling by a lower court on the law. The latest decision came from a trio of judges who said the law is in conflict with equal-protection laws.

Earlier in the year another federal appeals court in Boston made a similar decision, The Associated Press reported. 

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the "decision today echoes testimony heard during an historic hearing before the Judiciary Committee’s last year: DOMA has damaging effects on the lives of thousands of American families, who are denied the same federal rights as millions of other Americans."

—This story was updated at 1:36 pm.