In its latest filing in an ongoing federal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Obama administration argues there is “no fundamental right” to gay marriage benefits, the AP reported.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley sued the federal government in July on behalf of the 16,000 gay and lesbian couples who have legally wed in Massachusetts since the state legalized gay nuptials in 2004. The suit challenges section 3 of the 13-year-old law, 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 overage, and Social Security payments.

“There is, however, no fundamental right to marriage-based federal benefits,” Assistant Attorney General Tony West says in his 36-page filing.

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

In defending the law, the Justice Department denies says that the law discriminates against gay couples.

DOMA “does not prohibit gay and lesbian couples from marrying, nor does it prohibit the states from acknowledging same-sex marriages,” Assistant Attorney General Tony West said in his court filing.

In its original filing, the state argued that the federal government “overstepped its authority” in enacting DOMA, “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 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 its ruling and by 1998 voters had placed a gay marriage ban in the state constitution, effectively overruling the court's decision.

The challenge is unique in that it was filed by a state and argues that the state itself is being harmed. However, it is not alone in challenging the law.

At least two other federal lawsuits have been filed: another in Massachusetts and one in California. Another case filed in California was dismissed on a technicality earlier this year, but its backers have vowed to refile. And a fourth case is being backed by Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts. In that proposed challenge, a Massachusetts man, Tim Coco, says DOMA bars him from sponsoring his Brazilian husband for U.S. citizenship, keeping the pair apart since 2007.