BOSTON (AP) — A U.S. Supreme Court decision that clears the way for federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples was widely praised Wednesday in Massachusetts, the first state that legalized gay marriage.

"Next to the day that we got married, this is the best day of my life," said Tom Hopkins, 62, as he stood next to his spouse, U.S. Army veteran Darrel Hopkins.

The couple said the high court ruling striking down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act will make them eligible for a host of federal benefits and help guarantee that they can someday be buried next to each other in a Massachusetts military cemetery.

Darrel Hopkins served in the military from 1962 to 1986, but the couple said after it was approved by the state for burial in the military cemetery, the U.S. Veterans Administration warned that it would withhold $17 million in funding for Massachusetts if the burial ever took place.

Darrel Hopkins said he was "elated beyond belief," when he learned of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The couple, from Westminster, was married in 2004, not long after Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

"I'm one, proud of what we did in Massachusetts, and two, very happy that this movement and this recognition has gone forward and will continue to go forward," said retired state Supreme Judicial Court justice John Greaney, who joined with the majority in the landmark 2003 decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry in Massachusetts.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said the ruling will mean that same-sex couples in Massachusetts will no longer be denied Social Security, medical benefits or hundreds of other federal protections.

Coakley was the first state attorney general to challenge DOMA in federal court, and though the case she brought was not the one ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, she said was proud of Massachusetts' role.

"Think of the veterans who can now be buried together with their spouses in our military cemeteries," said Coakley, her voice cracking with emotion at a news conference on Wednesday.

"Think of the wife who can now take medical leave to care for the love of her life. And think of the people who will no longer be denied Social Security or other important, fundamental protections simply because they married someone they loved," she said.

A group that has strongly opposed gay marriage expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court ruling but noted that the justices did not, in the DOMA ruling or in a separate ruling involving California's Proposition 8, make a broader decision on the definition of marriage.

"The battle is far from over, believe me," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.

"We will continue to confirm the definition of marriage as between one man and own woman," he said.

Several elected Massachusetts leaders, including Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and U.S. Sen.-elect Edward Markey, issued statements applauding the high court decision on DOMA.

"The Court's decision confirms what we have long known, that all Americans have the right to pursue happiness by marrying the person they love," said Markey, who won a special election on Tuesday to succeed John Kerry in the U.S. Senate.

Greaney, who retired from the Massachusetts high court in 2008 and now teaches law at Suffolk University, said he did not expect Wednesday's rulings to immediately pave the way for same-sex unions in states where gay marriage remains illegal.

"I think at this point it's a state-by-state approach," he said.