Opening arguments in a challenge to the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) began Thursday before a federal judge
in Boston, the AP reported.
The Boston-based gay rights group Gay &
Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the gay rights advocacy
group at the center of the gay marriage debate in New England, is
representing seven gay married couples and three surviving spouses
from Massachusetts who have been denied federal benefits because of
the 1996 law that defines marriage as a heterosexual union for
GLAD lawyer Mary L. Bonauto called the
law an unconstitutional intrusion on a matter previously left to
“All the federal government has ever
cared about is that the person is married at the state level,” she
argued before US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro. “For the
first time ever, DOMA departed from that.”
Bonauto asked Tauro to rule in the
group's favor without a trial.
Lawyers representing the government
said that while the Obama Administration supports repeal of the law,
the Department of Justice has a responsibility to defend the laws
enacted by Congress, and asked for the suit to be dismissed.
“This presidential administration
disagrees with DOMA as a matter of policy,” W. Scott Simpson, a DOJ
lawyer argued. “But that does not affect its constitutionality.”
Speaking to reporters after oral
arguments, Bonauto said: “The judge was clearly prepared. He asked
good questions of both sides. And I think he completely understands
If a trial is ordered, it would be the
second at a federal level concerning gay and lesbian couples' right
The first such trial is expected to
wrap up in June after a federal judge heard more than three week's
worth of testimony in January. Lawyers representing a gay and a
lesbian couple argued that California's gay marriage ban, Proposition
8, violates their constitutional rights.
GLAD's case focuses narrowly on federal
benefits being denied to legally married couples in Massachusetts,
the first state to legalize the institution in 2004.
One plaintiff, Dean Hara, the widower
of former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of
Congress, has been denied the Congressman's pension and other
benefits extended to surviving spouses.
“It hurts,” said Hara, who married
Studds in May 2004. “But at the same time I realize that I, as a
man, need to stand up for what I believe in. This is a nation of
laws, and we're all supposed to have equal treatment under the law.”
Both lawsuits are expected to reach the