Thursday, July 9, 2009

MASSACHUSETTS SUES TO END ANTI-GAY FEDERAL LAW ON MARRIAGE

NY Times - The Massachusetts attorney general, Martha Coakley, sued the federal government to overturn a section of the law denying federal benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages. With the suit, Massachusetts becomes the first state to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed by Congress in 1996 and prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage.

Massachusetts was also the first state, in 2003, to grant gay couples the right to marry; five other states - Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont - have since followed. The challenge, filed in United States District Court here, comes as President Obama and Congress face increasing pressure from gay rights groups to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, said the act interfered with states' rights to define and regulate marriage as they saw fit. While same-sex couples can marry in Massachusetts - Ms. Coakley said more than 16,000 have done so - they are denied federal benefits like Social Security survivors' payments, the right to file taxes jointly and guaranteed leave from work to care for a sick spouse.

"We cannot and should not be required to violate the equal-protection rights of our citizens in Massachusetts who choose to be married," Ms. Coakley said, adding that the act forced the state "to disregard the marriages of same-sex couples when implementing federally funded programs."

The suit also highlights two state programs affected by the Defense of Marriage Act: Medicaid, which provides health care coverage to low-income residents, and the burial of veterans and their spouses at cemeteries owned and operated by the state. The suit names as defendants the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the United States.

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