MIAMI - The U.S. Justice Department asked a judge Friday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging an 8-year-old federal law banning gay marriage, making it the federal government's first direct legal defense of the act.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is fighting a lawsuit filed by four same-sex couples who argue that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The law defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and lets states refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
The issue of same-sex marriages has become a theme of the presidential race, with President Bush calling for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which Democratic challenger John Kerry opposes.
Kerry says he opposes gay marriage, but defends a gay couple's rights to the same legal protections marriage provides.
The Justice Department's motion to dismiss the Miami lawsuit says the plaintiffs have no constitutional standing to challenge the federal law because they are not married in any state and the law has not been applied to them.
The motion also said the U.S. Supreme Court has "defined the right to marry consistent with traditional understandings."
Ellis Rubin, attorney for the gay couples, declined immediate comment Friday, saying he had not seen the motion.