WASHINGTON – A closely watched constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act went before a U.S. appeals court for the first time Wednesday, setting the stage for a possible Supreme Court decision next year on whether legally married same-sex couples are entitled to equal benefits under federal law.
At issue is not whether gays and lesbians have a right to marry, but whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can marry.
Mary Bonauto, a lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston, argued states have always set the laws on marriage and family. By refusing to recognize same-sex marriages in states such as Massachusetts, the 1996 federal law created “an across-the-board exclusion” to equal rights and benefits, she said.
The oral argument took place before the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Gay-rights advocates said they were cheered by the tone of the argument. The three judges deciding the case asked relatively few questions during the hourlong argument, but the most skeptical questions were directed to Paul Clement, who is defending the federal law.