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U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments against Defense of Marriage Act

Two former Oklahoma members of Congress were main authors of 1996 legislation known as the Defense of Marriage Act that is now being challenged in U.S. Supreme Court because it denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
by Chris Casteel Published: March 25, 2013
/articleid/3770400/1/pictures/1990245">Photo - Former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles
Former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles

Largent, who now heads the Wireless Association in Washington, declined to be interviewed last week about the Supreme Court case but said in an email that he still feels as adamantly now about the sanctity of marriage.

Spokesmen for current Oklahoma Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who was in the U.S. House in 1996, and Jim Inhofe, who was in the Senate that year, said last week that the lawmakers still support the Defense of Marriage Act.

Legal ramifications

The Obama administration has refused to defend the law, saying it denies equal protection to same-sex couples and “an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples.”

According to the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, there are more than 1,100 sections in federal law in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights and privileges. Benefits related to Social Security, health care and veterans services are among those affected. Same-sex couples also can't file joint tax returns.

A brief filed in the case says that the U.S. Army couldn't notify the spouse of a female staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan and couldn't give her the flag that was draped on the officer's coffin.

The case before the Supreme Court was originally brought by a woman who was not allowed to claim the spousal deduction for estate taxes when her spouse died. It cost her more than $363,000.

A federal judge in New York ruled in the woman's favor last year, and that ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court.

The appeals court said the law's classification of “same-sex spouses was not substantially related to an important government interest. Accordingly, we hold that Section 3 of (the Defense of Marriage Act) violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional.”

Nickles said last week that the section on federal benefits was included to ensure that the federal government didn't “subsidize” same-sex marriage.

When the bill was approved in 1996, he said, the section on federal benefits was a relatively small part of the debate. The main intent of the bill, he said, was to protect states that didn't support gay marriage from having to sanction same-sex marriages from other states.

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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