News (USA)

Another federal judge rules ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ unconstitutional

A federal judge in Oakland, Calif., ruled late Thursday that a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is unconstitutional to the extent that it limits same-sex spouses of state workers from obtaining the same insurance coverage available to heterosexual couples.

That provision of the 1996 DOMA law defines marriage as “a legal union of a one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said California’s public-employee pension system must make long-term care insurance equally available to same-sex spouses and partners.

Wilken issued her ruling in a lawsuit filed against the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS, by same-sex couples. The system had refused to allow same-sex 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.”

Metro Weekly has more:

In the order issued Thursday evening, Wilken found that Section 3 of DOMA — the federal definition of “marriage” and “spouse” — “violates the equal protection rights of Plaintiff same-sex spouses” and that subparagraph (C) of Section 7702B(f) of the Internal Revenue Code “violates the equal protection rights of Plaintiff registered domestic partners.” Specifically, the court found that “both provisions are constitutionally invalid to the extent that they exclude Plaintiff same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners from enrollment in the CalPERS long-term care plan.”

In conclusion, Wilken ordered CalPERS not to use DOMA or the relevant tax provision to deny enrollment to same-sex spouse and registered domestic partners in the state. She also ordered that the federal government not disqualify CalPERS’s plan from the beneficial tax treatment for following the court order. Finally, Wilken established in Thursday’s ruling that the decision would be stayed, or put on hold, during an appeal of her decision if one is sought.

The ruling for the plaintiffs is in Dragovich v. Department of Treasury, and is just one of the many ongoing DOMA challenges in federal courts across the country.

With Thursday’s decision, Wilken becomes the second trial judge in the U.S. District Court for Northern California to strike down that section of DOMA.

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.

In July 2010, Judge Joseph L. Tauro, a U.S. District Court judge in Boston, ruling on two separate challenges to DOMA, held that the act is unconstitutional and forced the state of Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens.

A copy of the ruling is here.

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