News


Judge strikes down Defense of Marriage Act provision in state employees' case

Pension system must make long-term care insurance equally available to same-sex spouses, partners, federal court rules

A federal judge ruled in Oakland that the state's public-employee pension system must make long-term care insurance equally available to same-sex spouses and partners.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is unconstitutional to the extent that it limits same-sex spouses of state workers in obtaining the insurance.

The provision of the 1996 DOMA law defines marriage as "a legal union of a one man and one woman as husband and wife."

It has been used to bar gay and lesbian spouses from obtaining a variety of federal benefits.

Wilken issued her ruling in a lawsuit filed against the California Public Employees' Retirement System, known as CalPERS, by same-sex couples.

The system has refused to let gay spouses enroll in its federally approved insurance program on the ground that they were excluded by DOMA.

Wilken said the DOMA ban violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment. She wrote that there was no proof the DOMA provision was "rationally related to a legitimate government interest."

Today's decision makes Wilken the second trial judge in the U.S. District Court for Northern California to strike down that section of the 1996 law.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco issued a similar ruling in February in a lawsuit filed by Karen Golinski, a federal

appeals court staff attorney who wants to enroll her wife in the court's employee health plan.

An appeal of White's decision by a Republican-led Congressional group is slated to be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in September.

The group, known as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, is made up of the five top leaders of the House of Representatives. It stepped into both the cases before White and Wilken after the Obama Administration said last year it will no longer defend DOMA.

The group's three Republican members, including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, supported intervening in the two lawsuits to defend DOMA.

Its two Democratic members, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, opposed doing so.

Another decision by a federal judge in Massachusetts striking down DOMA is on appeal before a U.S. appeals court in Boston.

In today's ruling, Wilken also struck down a U.S. Internal Revenue Service law to the extent that it bars domestic partners from enrolling in the long-term care insurance plan offered by CalPERS.

She ordered CalPERS to begin allowing gay and lesbian spouses and partners to enroll in the plan, but also said she will suspend that order

during an appeal if the Congressional group files an appeal.

Wilken had indicated, in two previous rulings in which she declined to dismiss the case, that she was likely to strike down the DOMA provision.

The government-approved long-term care insurance plan offered by CalPERS gives participants federal tax benefits.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

— Bay City News Service

Comments

Posted by Steve, a resident of Stoneridge
on May 25, 2012 at 10:09 am

Unmarried, same sex couples are entitled (by law) to benefits that opposite sex couples are not.

When I was living with my wife, I could not get health insurance coverage for her. However, if she was a man, my company would have covered her. Is that what we call equal protection these days?


Posted by Equalityworks, a resident of Del Prado
on May 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm

A welcome decision! Fairness and equality are principles that we base our nation's identity on, it's wonderful to see the voice of reason overcoming prejudice.

"There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in Federal law. Because the Defense of Marriage Act defines "marriage" as only a legal union between one man and one woman, same-sex couples - even if legally married in their state - will not be considered spouses for purposes of federal law."
(Web Link).
It's an unreasonable process to change every federal law to redefine who it applies to regarding married couples and same-sex life partners. Let's call it what it is when two people commit to living sharing their lives and supporting each other - marriage.

As a Christian woman, married for 29 years, with children, I can't imagine how a same-sex couple's marriage is supposed to threaten my marriage or anything about me. That scare tactic is a pretty desperate attempt to formulate some argument against gay marriage that makes any sense. It fails.

Thanks to this judge for standing up to the hate and choosing reason.


Posted by More to the Story, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Since the article makes a big deal about Republicans getting involved, it should at least try to balance the facts... IE The Obama administration refused to have Federal Attorney's defend DOMA, even though DOMA is existing Federal Law. This is why other Federally elected officials stepped into this matter.


Posted by Equalityworks, a resident of Del Prado
on May 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm

?? @More to the Story.....It says right in the article "The group, known as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, is made up of the five top leaders of the House of Representatives. It stepped into both the cases before White and Wilken after the Obama Administration said last year it will no longer defend DOMA." So, it already contains the fact you supply.
He acted on the advice of the Attorney General, because new lawsuits filed against the act challenged it in jurisdictions without precedent on whether sexual-orientation classifications are subject to rational basis review or whether they must satisfy some form of heightened scrutiny. Under the "heightened scrutiny" the administration would have to argue for or against the constitutionality of section 3 of DOMA, and the language in that section doesn't hold up well to a constitutional challenge re:equal protection under the law. It is not uncommon for the federal administration to chose not to defend a lawsuit that is likely to be fail. Waiting until lawsuits have worked their way through lower courts is also a good idea.


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