Attorney General Coakley asks US Supreme Court to strike down portion of Defense of Marriage Act

Attorney General Martha Coakley has asked the nation’s highest court to uphold a landmark ruling by a Boston appeals court that struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which, she argues, discriminates against same-sex couples by defining marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman.

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2011 file photo, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley speaks to reporters at a news conference in Boston. A battle over the federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman appears headed for the Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled Thursday, May 31, 2012, that denying benefits to married gay couples is unconstitutional. The ruling came in two lawsuits, one filed by the Boston-based legal group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the other by Coakley. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds, File)
Attorney General Martha Coakley (Josh Reynolds/AP)

Coakley filed a brief with the US Supreme Court in response to appeals filed by the US Department of Justice and a congressional group that asked the high court to overturn the lower court ruling.

Coakley argued that the decision by the First US Circuit Court of Appeals should stand because it protects the rights of same-sex couples in Massachusetts.

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“The Defense of Marriage Act is a discriminatory and unconstitutional law that harms thousands of families in Massachusetts and takes away our state’s right to extend marriage equality to all couples,” Coakley said in a statement.

“It is our firm conviction that in order to truly achieve marriage equality all couples must enjoy the same rights and protection under both state and federal law. If the Supreme Court chooses to examine this case, we will look forward to once again making clear that DOMA and its pervasive discrimination is unconstitutional and should be ended.”

The Boston appeals court ruled last month in favor of gay rights advocates who had argued that the DOMA violated equal protection rights by granting federal marriage benefits only to opposite-sex marriages, even though same-sex couples can legally marry in Massachusetts.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders brought the challenge on behalf of 17 couples who said they were being deprived of rights such as spousal death benefits.

Coakley had also argued that DOMA violated the state’s sovereignty rights by restricting which couples would be eligible for programs that are federally funded but run by the state.

The appeals court did not make a decision on Coakley’s argument, instead focusing on the equal protection claims that were raised by GLAD.

The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, appointed by the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives, asked the US Supreme Court to hear the case. Though the legal question is restricted to states that allow same-sex marriages, it could be the first time the nation’s highest court tackles a question related to gay marriage.