U.S. asks Supreme Court to consider two more gay marriage cases

Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:21am EDT

A same-sex couple hold each other before exchanging wedding vows at a comic book retail shop in Manhattan, New York June 20, 2012. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

A same-sex couple hold each other before exchanging wedding vows at a comic book retail shop in Manhattan, New York June 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Adrees Latif

(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to consider two additional legal challenges to a federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, after submitting similar cases for review in July.

The two petitions filed by the department urge the high court to consider at least one gay marriage case in the near future to determine whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates legally married same-sex couples' rights by treating them differently than heterosexual couples.

In July, the government filed petitions asking the high court to take up two other appeals of the law. But if the Supreme Court declines to hear both of those cases, it should instead consider two additional challenges, the Justice Department wrote in the petitions filed Tuesday.

One of the cases submitted Tuesday involves 83-year old Edie Windsor of New York, who married her partner, Thea Spyer, in Canada in 2007. After Spyer died, Windsor said she had to pay more than $363,000 in U.S. federal estate taxes, which she would not have had to pay if her same-sex marriage had been legally recognized by the U.S. government, according to the 2010 lawsuit.

A U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan ruled in Windsor's favor, finding that a Defense of Marriage Act provision discriminated against married same-sex couples. Federal courts in California and Massachusetts also have found the law unconstitutional.

Windsor petitioned the Supreme Court in July to fast-track her case and bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which is scheduled to hear her case in September. New York City has filed a brief supporting Windsor's stance.

The other case submitted on Tuesday by the Justice Department involves six same-sex married couples and one widower from several states who say they have been denied significant federal benefits because of the law.

A district judge in Connecticut ruled in July that their rights had been violated by the law, and in August, advocacy group the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed a request that the Supreme Court take the appeal.

The petitions are the third and fourth, respectively, that have been submitted by the U.S. government asking the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the law's definition of marriage.

In 2011, the Obama administration announced it no longer believed the law to be constitutional and stopped defending it. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, appointed by the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, is defending the law in its stead.

A lawyer for the group did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday evening.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye, editing by Philip Barbara)

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