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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Gay California Couples Advance in Benefits Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The federal government has failed to show "a plausible, legitimate rationale" for excluding same-sex couples from California's long-term health insurance program, a federal judge ruled.

Three gay and lesbian couples sued the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service, California Public Employees Retirement System and their respective heads last April after they were barred from enrolling in CalPERS' long-term care program.

Both the federal Defense of Marriage Act and portions of the Internal Revenue Service code limit such participation.

After a federal judge denied the government's motion to dismiss last year, the couples filed an amended complaint to include registered domestic partners recognized by the state of California.

The new filing claims that DOMA and the IRS exclusions, which are aimed at people in same-sex relationships, violate the Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and substantive due process.

U.S District Judge Claudia Wilkins again denied the government's motion to dismiss, citing a congressional "record of animosity towards gays and lesbians" going back to 1992, and rulings by the Supreme Court pertaining to anti-homosexuality legislation.

"Although the Supreme Court has not established that sexual orientation is a suspect or quasi-suspect class for purposes of the equal protection doctrine, it held in Romer [v. Evans] that gays and lesbians, as a class, are at least protected from burdensome legislation that is the product of sheer anti-gay animus and devoid of any legitimate government purpose," Wilkins wrote.

"Plaintiffs have pointed to a record of animus that could explain the exclusion" of same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners on the IRS' list of eligible family beneficiaries, Wilkins added.

The judge also rejected the government's claims that excluding domestic partners allows for "the evolution of state domestic partnership laws."

"[The IRS code] provides favorable federal tax treatment for long-term care plans maintained and administered by the states," Wilkins wrote. "The provision does not have any bearing on how state domestic partnership laws evolve, one way or another.... [It] simply withholds favorable tax treatment to domestic partners that a state otherwise recognizes."

"Plaintiffs have stated a viable constitutional challenge to [tax codes] under the doctrines of equal protection and substantive due process," the 29-page decision states.

The federal defendants had stated in their motion to dismiss that nothing about that motion should be construed as support for the constitutionality of DOMA, a 1996 law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Earlier in 2011, the Obama administration said it would stop defending the law because it is unconstitutional.

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