BY DENISE LAVOIE, AP LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER
BOSTON -- A legal battle over a law that denies federal benefits to married gay couples is headed to a federal appeals court in Massachusetts, the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted by Congress in 1996, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
A federal judge in Massachusetts declared a key section of the law unconstitutional in 2010 after Attorney General Martha Coakley and the legal group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders sued. Judge Joseph Tauro found that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples an array of federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns.
An appeal by a bipartisan congressional group in both cases will be heard Wednesday by the federal appeals court in Boston.