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Obama administration files brief against Prop 8

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Washington has joined more than a dozen states defending same-sex marriage in a pair of landmark cases to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court next month.

The states on Thursday filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down California's Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state four years ago.

Their second brief, expected to be filed Friday, supports a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

"Washington has a clear interest in supporting marriage equality and in ensuring the federal government respects marriages that are valid under Washington law," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.

The Prop. 8 case, Hollingsworth vs Perry, presents a constitutional challenge to the 2009 vote in California banning gay marriage. The 9th Circuit ruled there's no rational basis for California to deny same-sex couples the right to marry on an equal basis as opposite sex couples.

In the DOMA case, U.S. vs Windsor, the Internal Revenue Service denied a New York woman a refund on federal estate taxes after her same-sex spouse died — a refund she would have received had her spouse been of the opposite sex.

The IRS denied the refund under a section of DOMA which interprets marriage or spouse appearing anywhere in federal law to apply only to a man and a woman.

While legal scholars have debated whether a ruling in the Prop 8 case would have impact beyond California, the DOMA case would certainly affect married couples in Washington and other states and the District of Columbia where same-sex unions are legal.

In their brief, the states agree with the 2nd Circuit's ruling that DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by denying federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married under the laws of their state.

"This case has a direct impact on Washington families. Couples who are legally married in our state may find themselves in this exact situation — being denied important federal benefits," Ferguson said. "This is fundamentally unfair, and we must stand up for the rights of the people of our state. Washington will have its voice heard in this critical debate."

Attorneys-general in all nine states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is now legal signed the brief, as did those in Oregon and Illinois, where efforts are underway to legalize same-sex marriage.

The cases will be heard on March 26 and 27, with a ruling from the high court expected in late June.

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