The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeals of lower court rulings striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to the Associated Press.

The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 and Section 3 of the law, which a district court judge found unconstitutional, defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. It prohibits legally married same sex couples from receiving more than 1,000 federal benefits awarded to heterosexual married couples.

Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster LLP brought the case on behalf of Karen Golinski, a federal court employee denied spousal health coverage for her wife. The couple married in California in 2008 before voters passed Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage.

The Department of Justice also filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to hear Gill v. OPM, another DOMA challenge brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

"This development highlights the desire by all, the government included, to resolve this issue quickly," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli said. "It is clear to us, to the Solicitor General and to the Department of Justice that DOMA’s days are numbered."

President Barack Obama last year directed the Department of Justice to no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA. Filing the petitions makes the Supreme Court more likely to weigh in on the case in the near future. If the justices decide to hear the case in late September, the Supreme Court could make a ruling as early as June 2013.

"There are loving, married same-sex couples, and grieving lesbian and gay widows and widowers around the country who are being hurt by the government’s discriminatory actions — that’s why there are DOMA cases pending in several jurisdictions, brought on behalf of many plaintiffs. Every one of their stories demonstrates that DOMA is an unfair and discriminatory law that violates the Constitution. While it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not to hear Golinski now, we are confident that DOMA will be found unconstitutional — and the sooner, the better."

[Gavel and law book image via Shutterstock]