When Karen Golinski, a federal court employee in San Francisco, filed for equal health benefits for her wife, she may not have foreseen that her action would bring a landmark legal victory for same-sex couples.
Golinski, a staff attorney in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, married her partner of more than 20 years, Amy Cunninghis, in California in August 2008. At that time, same-sex marriages were legal in that state. Golinski attempted to add Cunninghis to her coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, but was told that she didn’t qualify because she and her spouse are both women.
Golinski filed a complaint stating that decision violated the Ninth Circuit’s non-discrimination statute. A lower court agreed with Golinski and ordered the government to extend spousal benefits. The Office of Personnel Management, however, refused, arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevented Golinski and Cunninghis from receiving the same federal benefits as lawfully married heterosexual couples. Lambda Legal filed suit on Golinski’s behalf in January 2010.
On February 22, a federal judge ruled in Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management that the government’s definition of marriage, spelled out in DOMA’s Section 3, is unconstitutional. That section prevents the government from recognizing any legal unions except that of a husband and wife.
Judge Jeffrey White, a Bush appointee, ordered “the Court [to] issue a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants, and those acting at their direction or on their behalf, from interfering with the enrollment of Ms. Golinski’s wife in her family health benefits plan.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents the San Francisco area in Congress, applauded the decision. “By declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, we can right a wrong of our past; we can move closer to ending a fundamental unfairness in our nation; and we can look forward to the day when we discard this discriminatory law in the dustbin of history. With this decision, our country has taken a step forward for marriage equality—a step toward a time when all of America’s families enjoy the blessings of equal protection under the law.”