The Obama administration Wednesday
defended its right to define marriage as a heterosexual union before
a federal judge considering the constitutionality of the Defense Of
Marriage Act (DOMA), the AP reported.
The Massachusetts attorney general's
office is challenging the section of the law that denies married gay
and lesbian couples federal benefits such as income tax credits,
employment and retirement benefits, health insurance coverage and
Social Security payments.
Representing the nearly 16,000 gay
couples who have married in Massachusetts since gay marriage became
legal in 2004, Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey argued that
the right to define marriage has historically been held by the
“Never before has the federal
government told a married couple that they are married under state
law but not under federal law,” Healey said, adding that states
“have always had exclusive control over defining and regulating
DOMA also allows states to ignore legal
gay marriages performed in other states, but the attorney general is
not challenging this section of the law. A win then would only
affect states that have legalized such unions.
Christopher Hall, a Justice Department
lawyer, argued the federal government has the right to define
marriage and set eligibility requirements for federal benefits.
Healey also argued that DOMA “forces
Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens” because it
interferes with the state's authority to regulate marriage.
Hall disagreed, saying the law doesn't
forbid states from legalizing gay marriage.
In a brief submitted to the court, the
attorney general also claims that the law “codified an animus
towards gay and lesbian people.”
Two additional federal challenges to
limiting marriage to a heterosexual union have already been heard.
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.
would repeal DOMA has not gained sufficient traction.