Massachusetts, which was the first American state to legalise gay marriage, is suing the US Federal government over the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The act gives individual American states the right to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages licensed in other states.

DOMA also denies married gay and lesbian couples access to more than 1 000 federal programs and legal protections, gay rights advocates say.

“In enacting DOMA, Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit challenges the section of the federal law that creates a definition of marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

It also argues that the act “constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law.” It says the approximately 16 000 same-sex couples who have married in Massachusetts since the state began performing gay marriages in 2004 are being unfairly denied federal benefits which are given to heterosexual couples.

DOMA was enacted when it appeared Hawaii would legalise same-sex marriages, and opponents were worried that other states would be forced to recognise them.

Despite American President Barack Obama’s promise to repeal the law during his campaign, little has been done by the American government. Just last month, the Justice Department’s lawyers defended the oppressive act in a court brief.

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