The Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley is taking the federal government to court in an effort to challenge the section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denies federal benefits to same-sex spouses.
DOMA, which bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, was passed by Congress in 1996, and Massachusetts is the first state to challenge its provisions.
In 2003, it also became the first state to grant gay couples the right to marry.
The suit claims the act interferes with states’ rights to regulate marriage. At the moment, six states allow gay marriage but spouses cannot take advantage of federal benefits like joint tax filing, Social Security paid to survivors and guaranteed leave from work to care for a sick spouse.
While supported by gay rights groups, the effort has been criticized by many conservative organizations.
Among them is the Family Research Council whose president, Tony Perkins, warned that "[federal] taxpayers face the very real possibility of being forced to subsidize same-sex ‘marriages’."
He has also called on the Justice Department to continue to defend DOMA against "frivolous" lawsuits.
Facing intense criticism from gay rights groups over what they saw as his inaction on the DOMA as well as the "don’t ask, dont tell" policy, President Obama signed a memorandum last month granting job-related benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.