Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of a federal law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, which denies same-sex couples married in Massachusetts access to certain federal benefits.
Coakley filed the lawsuit, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the U.S. Court for the District of Massachusetts against the Health and Human Services agency, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and those agencies' secretaries.
The lawsuit claims that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the U.S. Constitution because it interferes with Massachusetts' "sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage." Massachusetts is the first state to challenge the law.
The suit also claims that DOMA violates the Constitution's spending clause, which restricts' Congress' power to impose conditions on states getting federal funding. According to a Coakley office statement, "Congress does not have a valid reason for requiring Massachusetts to treat married same-sex couples differently from all other married couples."
Massachusetts was the first state to allow same-sex marriages, and more than 16,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot in the state since 2004. Besides Massachusetts, five other states -- Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Iowa -- have legalized gay marriage.
According to a Coakley statement, DOMA bars same-sex married couples from tapping into a range of federal benefits and privileges, including filing joint federal tax returns; collecting Social Security survivor benefits; getting federally mandated work leave to care for sick spouses; using flexible spending accounts to pay spouse's medical expenses; and taking advantage of federal gift tax and estate tax exemptions for spouses.
The lawsuit seeks an order barring the federal government from enforcing Section 3 of DOMA against Massachusetts and a declaration that applying DOMA's Section 3 to Massachusetts, the MassHealth agency and the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services, is unconstitutional.
In a statement, Coakley said that is unconstitutional for the federal government "to create a system of first- and second-class marriages."
"It is unconstitutional for the federal government to discriminate, as it does because of DOMA's restrictive definition of marriage," stated Coakley. "The federal government cannot require states, such as Massachusetts, to further the discrimination through federal programs, either. The time has come for this injustice to end."
The Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs departments did not respond to requests for comment.
This is the second lawsuit filed in Massachusetts challenging the law.
In March, the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders claimed the law discriminates against gay couples and is unconstitutional because it denies them access to federal benefits that other married couples receive, such as health insurance and pensions.
Associated Press reports contributed to this article.