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Gay and straight military members are treated differently under DOMA in terms of health benefits, housing and survivors’ benefits, even if they are legally married, said Mr. Murphy, who worked to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving openly in the military.

“It’s very simple — either you believe in equality or you don’t,” the Army veteran said.

DOMA forces businesses to be “instruments of discrimination” in their benefits plans, added Michael Paese, a government affairs executive at the global banking giant Goldman Sachs.

Among those signing the briefs: former Republican Govs. Jon Huntsman Jr., Christine Todd Whitman and William F. Weld, and Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard L. Hanna of New York. Ken Mehlman, the openly gay former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is a key promoter of the Respect for Marriage Coalition.

Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, who is openly gay, told the Thursday news conference that his partner, who is from Panama, has run into difficulty coming to the United States because of the federal law. The 11-term congressman recalled that when DOMA passed in 1996, gay marriage “seemed impossible.”

But “the times are changing, and I think that now we recognize that now is the time to strike,” Mr. Kolbe said.