Married gay couples sue U.S. seeking federal rights

Tue Mar 3, 2009 5:18pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - Eight same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts and three gay widowers filed a lawsuit on Tuesday seeking access to the federal protections and programs granted to straight married couples.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts marks the first major challenge to the constitutionality of a federal law denying gay and lesbian couples access to more than 1,000 federal programs and legal protections, gay advocates say.

The suit was brought by the same lawyers who led a successful campaign to legalize gay marriage in Massachusetts in 2003, paving the way for the nation's first same-sex marriages a year later. They won a similar fight last year to make Connecticut the second U.S. state to allow gay marriage.

"As lawyers we look at this as one step at a time," said Gary Buseck, legal director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. "This is really about how the federal government treats Massachusetts marriages."

The Massachusetts lawsuit comes two days before California's Supreme Court hears a challenge to a referendum that barred same-sex marriage in the nation's most populous state, sparking massive street protests.

More than 10,000 same-sex couples in Massachusetts have married since 2004. About a dozen other states are considering laws to legalize gay marriage.

The lawsuit challenges a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that was enacted in 1996 and defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman and prohibits federal recognition of gay marriage.

Others have challenged the law in the past, but the Massachusetts suit is the first by multiple parties.   Continued...

<p>Protestors gather in support of gay marriage in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston in July 2006. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>