DOMA Unconstitutional in Golinski Case

Fed agency illegally discriminated against married lesbian couple

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages in the application of spousal benefits.

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 family 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, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. A lower court agreed with Golinski and ordered the government to extend spousal benefits. The Office of Personnel Management, however, refused, arguing that 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 Wednesday, Judge Jeffrey White, a Bush appointee, ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act infringes on the Constitution’s equal protection clause. It is unclear if the government will be able to appeal.

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