The federal law been struck down in several places. Now a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York will hear lawyers argue whether the law should be abandoned or preserved. A ruling is not expected for months.
The law affirms the right of states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. It was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 after it appeared in 1993 that Hawaii might legalize them. Since then, many states have banned gay marriage and several have approved it, including Massachusetts and New York.
In written arguments, former U.S. attorneys general Edwin Meese III and John Ashcroft say it is unprecedented that the government would not defend a law that does not involve concerns over the separation of powers among the federal and state governments.