Federal judge: Denial of benefits to same-sex spouse is discriminatory


SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge this week ruled that the denial of insurance coverage to the same-sex spouse of a federal court employee in San Francisco was an act of discrimination.

“The denial of insurance benefits based on the sexual orientation and gender … violated the federal court’s guarantee of a “discrimination-free workplace,” wrote Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware, in his opinion.

However, the payments may have to wait while courts consider the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law barring federal marital benefits to same-sex couples, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

The new ruling involves Christopher Nathan, a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Maria Elena James. Nathan, 38, of San Francisco, married Thomas Alexander, 39, in a ceremony performed by James in 2008, when same-sex marriages were legal in California. Later, voters approved Proposition 8, overturning the state Supreme Court ruling that had legalized same-sex marriages.

But when Nathan tried last year to enroll Alexander in the federal government’s health insurance plan, he was turned down by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts because the 1996 law bars federal recognition of same-sex unions.

Ware’s ruling creates a problem for the court’s Chief Clerk Richard Wieking, who pointed out that directives from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts require federal court clerks to comply with DOMA.

Weiking told the Chronicle that he will turn the matter of compliance with Ware’s ruling over to the Administrative Office.

On Wednesday, a Massachusetts appeals court heard arguments involving yet another challenge to the 1996 law.

According to the Washington Blade, the Gill v. Office of Personnel Management case challenged DOMA’s definition of the word ‘marriage’ as meaning only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ referring only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The First Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on Gill v. Office of Personnel Management within a couple of months.

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