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Mass. lawsuit challenges federal gay marriage ban

Massachusetts has filed a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Reuters reported.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on behalf of the 16,000 gay and lesbian couples who have legally wed in Massachusetts since the state legalized gay nuptials in 2004 challenges section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for federal agencies. Section 3 denies gay and lesbian couples federal benefits such as federal income tax credits, employment and retirement benefits, health insurance coverage, and Social Security payments.

The lawsuit does not challenge section 2 of DOMA, which allows states to ignore legal gay marriages performed in other states.

"In enacting DOMA, Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states' efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people."

"[S]ame-sex couples in Massachusetts are still denied essential rights and protections because the federal Defense of Marriage Act interferes with the Commonwealth's authority to define and regulate marriage," the lawsuit says.

Congress approved and then-President Bill Clinton signed the legislation into law in 1996. Proponents argued that without the legislation gay activists would win the right to marry in a single state and foist it upon the remainder of the nation. In the mid-90's such a state was Hawaii. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry was unconstitutional. However, the court stayed the ruling and by 1998 voters had placed a gay marriage ban in the state constitution, effectively overruling the court's decision.

The suit is the fourth such challenge filed against DOMA this year. Two lawsuits have been filed in California, and another in Massachusetts.

The crush of lawsuits comes after a busy spring when four states legalized and one – the District of Columbia – recognized gay marriage, and the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a voter-approved gay marriage ban, Proposition 8. Other states took more measured steps, granting gay couples limited benefits with domestic partnerships, Nevada, Wisconsin and Washington State included. (Washington State domestic partnerships, however, offer gay couples all the benefits of marriage.) In some states, Maine and Washington State, gay marriage opponents are attempting to unravel lawmaker's actions.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the Boston-based gay rights advocacy group at the center of the gay marriage debate in New England, filed their section 3 DOMA challenge in March on behalf of eight gay married couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts.

"DOMA represents an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into the traditional and historical power of the states to make determinations of marital status," said Gary Buseck, legal director for GLAD, in statement. "By refusing to recognize any marriage of same-sex couples – and by denying these couples access to all federal rights, protections and responsibilities related to marriage – the federal government steps in and overrides these state-sanctioned marriages."

Today's legal challenge most closely resembles GLAD's suit, both focus narrowly on section 3, and victory would not extend gay marriage beyond the borders of states that have legalized it. But a broader DOMA lawsuit filed in California aims to obliterate the legislation completely.

Chief litigator Ted Olson, President George Bush's former solicitor general and a constitutional scholar, has said he believes the lawsuit will reach the Supreme Court: "We expect to win. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said the right to marry is fundamental."

President Obama has said he supports repeal of DOMA and has urged lawmakers to approve such legislation, but the Obama administration continues to defend the law in court.
Article provided in partnership with On Top Magazine
Mass. isn't concerned with Ohio and Montana recognizing Mass' gay marriages. It's concerned with the Federal Government recognizing them.
Posted by SoonerOrLater on Thu, 7/9/2009 2:27 AM
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