BOSTON -- Even if same-sex marriages become a reality in Washington, the federal government will not recognize those marriages. That has already prompted federal lawsuits in states where gay marriage has been on the books for years.
"It's sad and discouraging to know that we're treated as if there's a first- and second-class system of marriages," said Marlin Nabors, who lives in Massachusetts and married Jonathan Knight five years ago.
Nabors and Knight are plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, challenging part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Congress passed the bill and President Bill Clinton signed it in 1996.
The law means that, even though Nabors and Knight are married in Massachusetts, they cannot file federal taxes as a couple; they must check the box that says "single." They figure it costs them about $1,000 a year. And for other couples, it can be even more complicated, they say.
"Tax time is never fun, but that makes it a little worse," Knight said.
Gay and Lesbian Advocated and Defenders (GLAD), a gay-rights legal group, is working with plaintiffs on the lawsuits.
"There's a whole scope of rights that accrue from the federal government that are basic bread-and-butter programs that same-sex couples at this point don't have access to," said Lee Swislow, GLAD's executive director.
That includes Social Security benefits, something that upsets Maureen Brodoff and Ellen Wade, who married in Massachusetts nearly eight years ago.
"The idea that my Social Security that I've earned and the benefits that would be available to my spouse, were I to die, are not available to Ellen, that bothers me a lot," Brodoff said.
In 2010, a district court ruled in favor of Nabors, Knight and the other plaintiffs in their case. Their case will now go before an appeals court.
A similar case in Connecticut is also moving its way through federal court.
The Obama administration has decided to not longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but Republican Congressional leaders are making sure the law is defended. Many legal experts agree the issue might have to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Other legal issues have also popped up since same-sex marriages became a reality in Massachusetts. A few parents sued their school district a few years ago because they did not want their children to learn about homosexuality and same-sex marriages.
But a federal court ruled against them, saying, "the constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children and that teachings which contradict a parent's religious beliefs do not violate their First Amendment right to exercise their religion."
Opponents of same-sex marriage are still upset with the ruling.
"Federal judges have ruled that we can't get around it, other than parents moving their children from the schools and putting them into private schools," said Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
Mineau would like to see Massachusetts residents vote on the issue of same-sex marriage, but lawmakers have not voted to put the issue on the ballot. Since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriages in 2004, several state lawmakers who initially opposed them have changed their position on the issue.