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US: Mass. Can't Force Gay Marriage Benefits

Saturday, October 31, 2009

By Devlin Barrett
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — States that allow gay marriage can't force the federal government to provide benefits to those couples, the Obama administration argued Friday in court papers in a lawsuit by Massachusetts.

The Justice Department is at odds with Massachusetts — the first state to allow gay marriage — over a 1996 federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Massachusetts sued in July, saying that law is discriminatory and deprives gay couples in the state of some federal spousal benefits.

The Obama administration agrees the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is discriminatory and wants it repealed, but says it has an obligation to defend laws enacted by Congress while they are on the books and can be reasonably defended.

The law "does not prohibit gay and lesbian couples from marrying, nor does it prohibit the states from acknowledging same-sex marriages," according to the court filing by Assistant Attorney General Tony West.

Massachusetts, the filing continues, is trying to claim individuals have a right to federal benefits based on marital status.

"There is, however, no fundamental right to marriage-based federal benefits," according to the 36-page filing.

Joe Solmonese, head of the nation's largest gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, said the law is discriminatory and the Obama administration should not defend it....(Remainder.)

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