A federal judge in San Francisco today struck down the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for federal purposes and denies government benefits to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said the 1996 law discriminates against legally married gay and lesbian couples and violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment.
White is the second federal trial judge in the nation to declare the law unconstitutional. A district judge in Massachusetts issued a similar ruling last year, and that case is now on appeal before a federal appeals court in Boston.
White issued his decision in a lawsuit filed by Karen Golinski, a staff attorney of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco who is seeking health insurance for her wife, Amy Cunninghis.
The two women married in 2008 during a five-month period in which gay marriage was legal in California.
Golinski sued the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in federal court in San Francisco in 2010 after she was barred from enrolling Cunninghis as her spouse in the court’s employee health plan.
White wrote that the federal law, known as DOMA, violates Golinski’s constitutional rights “by, without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage (in order) to prevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse.”
He ordered the personnel office to allow Golinski to enroll Cunningham in the employee health insurance plan.
A Republican-led group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives stepped in to support the law after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last year that the Justice Department will no longer defend it.
The group’s lawyer, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, was not immediately available for comment on whether the Congress members will appeal.
Tara Borelli, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group that represented Golinski, said the decision “spells doom for DOMA.”
In a statement released through Lambda Legal, Golinski said she was “profoundly grateful” for White’s ruling.
“His decision acknowledges that DOMA violates the Constitution and that my marriage to Amy is equal to those marriages of my heterosexual colleagues.
“This decision is a huge step toward equality,” Golinski said.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News