A third federal challenge to
restricting marriage to heterosexual couples opens Wednesday in
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha
Coakley filed the lawsuit last July on behalf of the 16,000 gay and
lesbian couples who have legally wed in the state since gay marriage
became legal in 2004.
US District Judge Joseph L. Tauro is
expected to hear opening arguments in Commonwealth of
Massachusetts v. US Department Health and Human Services today.
The lawsuit challenges section 3 of the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that 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,” the lawsuit says.
“[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.”
federal trial to challenge the constitutionality of a gay marriage
ban wrapped up in January after more than three week's worth of
testimony. Lawyers representing a gay and a lesbian couple
argued that California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, violates
their constitutional rights. Closing
arguments are expected to be heard in June.
A second federal challenge to DOMA
has also been filed in Massachusetts by 17 gay men and lesbians who
were married in the state. Judge Tauro is also presiding over
Gay advocates believe all three cases
will likely reach the Supreme Court.