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Government's defense of DOMA

From NBC's Pete Williams
Though the Obama administration calls the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)  discriminatory, the Justice Department nonetheless is defending the law in a court filing today in Massachusetts.

The state has challenged the law, which denies federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples who are nonetheless legally married under state law.  Massachusetts officials say the federal law requires them to disregard legally valid marriages in carrying out federal Medicaid and Veterans' benefits programs. Such a requirement, they say, violates state sovereignty and is unconstitutional.

"This administration does not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal," the Justice Department says in today's filing.

Even so, the government says, it has "long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Department disagrees with a particular statute, as it does here."

DOMA doesn't regulate marriage, the government says, because states remain free to decide for themselves whether a same-sex couple can marry and how to spend state money on programs for married couples. But Congress had a logical reason for restricting federal benefits to marriages between men and women.

"Congress may subsequently decide to extend federal benefits to same-sex marriages, and this Administration believes that Congress should do so. But its decision not to do so at this point is not irrational or unconstitutional," today's filing argues.