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
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
“[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.