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High court skeptical of federal marriage law

WASHINGTON — In the second of back-to-back gay marriage cases, the Supreme Court is turning to a constitutional challenge to the law that prevents legally married gay Americans from collecting federal benefits generally available to straight married couples.

By MARK SHERMAN, AP Modified: March 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm •  Published: March 27, 2013
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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is indicating it could strike down the law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving a range of federal benefits that go to married people.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote in close cases, joined the four more liberal justices Wednesday in raising questions about the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that is being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Kennedy said the law appears to intrude on the power of states that have chosen to recognize same-sex marriages. Other justices said the law creates what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called two classes of marriage, full and "skim-milk marriage."

The federal law affects a range of benefits available to married couples, including tax breaks, survivor benefits and health insurance for spouses of federal employees.

It still is possible the court could dismiss the case for procedural reasons, though that prospect seemed less likely than it did in Tuesday's argument over gay marriage in California.

The motivation behind the 1996 federal law, passed by large majorities in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, was questioned repeatedly by Justice Elena Kagan.

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