(Photo: AP / Eric J. Shelton)
The federal Defense of Marriage Act which protects the traditional definition of marriage may be facing its biggest challenge yet. Massachusetts filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal law.
"We're taking this action today because, first, we believe that [DOMA] directly interferes with Massachusetts' long-standing sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Massachusetts was the first state in the country in 2003 to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. It is now also the first state to challenge DOMA, the 1996 law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws, and provides that states need not recognize same-sex marriages from another state.
The lawsuit argues that despite same-sex marriage being legal in Massachusetts, the more than 16,000 gay and lesbian married couples in the state are still denied access to "critically important rights and benefits" because of DOMA.
The New England state is specifically challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
"Congress's decision (in 1996) to enact a federal definition of marriage rejected the long-standing practice of deferring to each state’s definition of marriage and contravened the constitutional designation of exclusive authority to the states," states the lawsuit.
Congress overstepped its authority and undermined states' efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, the state further argues.
Rejecting the argument that DOMA interferes with the state's authority, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins contended that DOMA was enacted with the "primary purpose of protecting the right of states to define marriage as they see fit so that no state can force marriage redefinition on another state."
"Now, the Massachusetts Attorney General is expanding the fight against traditional marriage by demanding that federal taxpayers from all 50 states subsidize same-sex 'marriage' benefits in Massachusetts," Perkins said in a statement Wednesday.
Two other lawsuits have been filed against the federal DOMA.
Last month, the U.S. Justice Department moved to dismiss one of the lawsuits filed by a married gay couple.
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said they will review the latest case. At the same time, Miller also reiterated President Obama’s pledge to repeal DOMA.
Perkins of the conservative family group is calling on the Justice Department to "fulfill its constitutional duties and continue its defense of DOMA against such frivolous lawsuits."
"We also urge any federal courts that hear this case to dismiss it and preserve the right of the people to decide such important public policy decisions," he added.
According to a May 2009 Gallup Poll, most Americans (57 percent) remain opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage.