Court hears appeals over anti-gay marriage law

Wed Apr 4, 2012 2:40pm EDT
 
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By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court in Boston heard arguments on Wednesday about the constitutionality of a law that denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples - a case with implications for gay marriage across the United States.

Lawyers for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG) sought to defend the 1996 law, which the Obama administration essentially abandoned in 2011.

Plaintiffs, including seven married same-sex couples and three widowers, say that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which disqualifies their marriages from equal protections and responsibilities available to other spouses, discriminates against them.

It is the first time an appeals court has considered the constitutionality of DOMA, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and thus prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

A federal judge in Massachusetts declared a key section of DOMA unconstitutional in 2010. Massachusetts made same sex marriages legal in 2004, the first U.S. state to do so.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel heard oral arguments in the companion cases of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. Health and Human Services. A ruling on the closely watched cases could take several months.

Mary Bonuato, civil rights project director at Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), argued on behalf of the plaintiffs before Massachusetts Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, Judge Michael Boudin and Judge Juan Torruella.

"DOMA's precise point was to create an across the board exclusion of same-sex couples in the U.S. Code," Bonauto told the court.   Continued...

 
Mary Bonuato (C), civil rights project director at Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), speaks to reporters outside the U.S. District Court after attending a hearing before a federal appeals court panel on the Defense of Marriage Act in Boston, Massachusetts April 4, 2012. A federal appeals court in Boston heard arguments on Wednesday about the constitutionality of a law that denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples - a case with implications for gay marriage across the United States. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi