Thursday, February 23, 2012
U.S. May Not Exclude Same-Sex Spouse From Health Benefits, Judge Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The federal government may not deny health benefits to the wife of a lesbian court employee, a U.S. district judge ruled yesterday.
Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California said the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, violates Karen Golinski’s right to equal protection of the laws.
Golinski, a staff attorney for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, has been challenging the constitutionality of DOMA, as applied to her situation, for four years.
Golinski has been married to Amy Cunninghus since August 2008. They were lawfully married during the interval between the California Supreme Court ruling that the state’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and the passage of Proposition 8. The latter measure, whose constitutionality is the subject of separate litigation in the Ninth Circuit, wrote a same-sex marriage ban into the state Constitution, but the state high court held that marriages like Golinski’s, which occurred before Proposition 8 passed, are valid under state law.
Golinski originally sought an administrative ruling on her claim, and obtained it from Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. But the government’s Office of Personnel Management initially refused to honor the determination, so Golinski sued OPM.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said they would no longer defend DOMA in the courts. But OPM said it would still treat DOMA as effective law unless and until repealed by Congress or declared unconstitutional in a final court decision.
With the Justice Department no longer defending the law, the Bi-partisan Legal Advisory Group in Congress stepped in and argued before White that the law is constitutional.
But the judge said DOMA is steeped in impermissible animus against gays as a vulnerable group. While gays have achieved a small measure of political success, White said, “the basic inability to bring about an end to discrimination and pervasive prejudice, to secure desired policy outcomes and to prevent undesirable outcomes on fundamental matters that directly impact their lives, is evidence of the relative political powerlessness of gay and lesbian individuals.”
Statements by members of Congress during the DOMA debate, the judge said, clearly showed that opponents of the gay lifestyle were taking advantage of that powerlessness to deny gays and lesbians the basic dignity to which they are entitled under the Constitution.
The case is Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management, C 10-00257 JSW.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company