SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Defense of Marriage Act cannot be used to deny a lesbian federal employee’s wife health insurance, a federal judge ruled, declaring that the 1996 law is unconstitutional and discriminates against same-sex couples.
Karen Golinski, a 9th Circuit staff attorney, filed a petition with the federal court in January 2010 to enforce 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s order that the office of personnel management add her wife, Amy Cunninghis, to her employee health benefits plan.
Cunninghis was Golinski’s domestic partner for 13 years before they married in 2008, during the brief period when gay marriage was legalized in California by order of the California Supreme Court. The Office of Personnel Management claimed DOMA, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, precluded Cunninghis from receiving benefits as Golinski’s wife.
Kozinski issued several orders directing the personnel office to extend benefits to Golinski’s wife, and authorized Golinski to pursue her action in federal court. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives intervened in the case, claiming the application of DOMA did not violate their constitutional rights.
“The passage of DOMA marks a stark departure from tradition and a blatant disregard of the well-accepted concept of federalism in the area of domestic relations,” U.S. District Judge Jeffery White ruled. “In this matter, the court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage to prevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse.”
White rejected arguments offered by the congressional group for DOMA’s application to Golinski, including that DOMA protects the government’s interest in promoting procreation through marriage. “To the extent Congress was interested merely in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing by opposite-sex married couples, a desire to encourage opposite-sex couples to procreate and raise their own children well would not provide a legitimate reason for denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages,” White wrote. “Accordingly, the court finds that the first proffered reason for the passage of DOMA – to encourage responsible procreation and child-rearing – does not provide a justification that is
substantially related to an important governmental objective.”
He also criticized the government’s purported interest in defending the traditional definition of marriage, writing, “Simply stating what has always been does not address the reasons for it. The mere fact that prior law, history, tradition, the dictionary and the Bible have defined a term does not give that definition a rational basis, it merely states what has been. Tradition, standing alone, does not provide a rational basis for the law.”