The Couple Behind the Case

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Julio 12, 2012
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Lambda Legal plaintiff Karen Golinski (left) with spouse Amy Cunninghis

An interview with the plaintiff in Lambda Legal's DOMA challenge, Karen Golinski.

Did you ever expect things to proceed this way when you first sought to enroll Amy in your benefits plan?

No, we did not, although (former Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director) Jenny Pizer warned us that my “little employment dispute” might take on a life of its own. When I first put in my paperwork to add Amy to my health insurance, she and I joked that we were going to try, but hoped we wouldn’t have to “make a federal case out of it.” We laugh quite a bit about that now, two and a half years and a federal lawsuit later.

How do you feel about the case now moving forward as a direct challenge to DOMA?

We feel honored and a bit overwhelmed to be part of this movement that is challenging DOMA. When we talk to people about our case, it seems so simple and unfair to everyone, and we are glad that our case highlights the clearly discriminatory nature of DOMA. We are also amazed by how the legal landscape has changed since I first tried to add Amy to my health insurance—the number of cases across the country that are now challenging the unfair treatment of lesbians and gay men due to DOMA, as well as the Administration’s significant decision to stop defending this discriminatory law.

As an attorney, what has it been like for you to find a very personal issue of your own at the center of a high-profile case?

Quite honestly, it has been uncomfortable at times, especially as a federal judiciary employee now suing the federal government. With that said, I am incredibly grateful to my employer, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for its comprehensive employee dispute resolution plan, which covers both sex and sexual orientation discrimination. The court has tried in every way possible to treat me fairly and to put Amy on my health plan.

What have the past three years been like for you as a family?

An emotional rollercoaster! It is difficult to explain to friends and family that despite having won several rulings during the employee dispute resolution process, Amy has not yet been added to my family health plan. It is surreal. Amy and I are also fairly private people, and the public nature of this case has been challenging. We steel ourselves for the appearance of news articles, reminding each other that we are fighting an important fight for our own family and for others like ours.