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Judge Orders Pay to Gay Couple Denied Benefits

(CN) - The federal government must compensate a gay Los Angeles couple who were denied spousal benefits because of their sexuality, 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled Wednesday.

Reinhardt said the denial of healthcare and other benefits to the spose of federal public defender Brad Levenson violated the Constitution's right to due process and California's ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Levenson and Tony Sears were married in July 2008 when same-sex marriage was legal in California. Prop 8 was passed a year ago that defined marriage in California as being between a man and a woman.

Reinhardt had ordered the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to process Levenson's application for spousal benefits for Sears, stating that the denial of benefits "violates the 9th Circuit's Employment Dispute Resolution Plan for Federal Public Defenders, which expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation."

But the federal Office of Personnel Management stepped in, citing the Defense of Marriage Act that bans the recognition of same-sex marriages.

Levenson appealed.

"If Sears were female, or if Levenson himself were female, Levenson would be able to add Sears as a beneficiary," Reinhardt wrote. "Thus, the denial of benefits at issue here was sex-based.

"The denial of federal benefits of same-sex spouses cannot be justified simply by a distate for or disapproval of same-sex marriage or a desire to deprive same-sex spouses of benefits available to other spouses in order to discourage them from exercising a legal right afforded them by a state," he said.

Reinhardt ruled that Levenson should be awarded back-pay equal to the amount he would've gotten "if the personnel action had not occurred," but didn't specify a specific amount.

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