A lawyer for 17 gays and lesbians who wed in Massachusetts urged a federal judge yesterday to strike down the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman, calling it an unconstitutional intrusion on a matter previously left to states.
The case is widely considered the first serious legal challenge in the nation to the Defense of Marriage Act, and puts the Obama administration in the awkward position of defending a law that it says it opposes but believes is constitutional.
Mary L. Bonauto, a lawyer for the Boston-based nonprofit Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, argued in US District Court that the federal government had always let states decide who was legally married until it passed the law in question.
“Your honor, the only thing that changed here was who was going to marry,’’ Bonauto told US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro. Bonauto also led the lawsuit that resulted in the landmark 2003 decision by the state Supreme Judicial Court legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts.
Bonauto said that because of the law, the federal government treats the plaintiffs — seven gay and lesbian couples and three men whose husbands have died — as second-class citizens. They are ineligible for numerous federal benefits that heterosexual couples receive, including health insurance for spouses of federal employees, retirement and survivor benefits under the Social Security Act, and eligibility to file joint federal income tax returns. Read more. Posted using ShareThis