Lambda Legal: Application of DOMA to Block Health Benefits for Wife of Lesbian Federal Court Employee Would Be Unconstitutional

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"The Obama Administration's aggressive efforts to prevent the court from enforcing its nondiscrimination protections may lead to DOMA's undoing."

Date

Date: 
11/09/2010
Jon W. Davidson

"The Executive Branch shouldn't be interfering with the Judiciary's efforts to avoid employment discrimination."

(San Francisco, November 9, 2010)—Lambda Legal yesterday filed a brief in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in a lawsuit that could result in the next major court decision regarding the constitutionality of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," also known as DOMA.

Lambda Legal and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster filed the case earlier this year against the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and its Director, John Berry, on behalf of Karen Golinski. Golinski is an employee of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who sought spousal health insurance benefits for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, that are provided to the spouses of heterosexual employees. After Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ruled that denying those benefits would violate the court's employment discrimination protections and directed Blue Cross/Blue Shield to enroll Cunninghis in the plan covering court employees and their family members, OPM told Blue Cross/Blue Shield not to do so. The suit seeks an injunction directing OPM to stop interfering with Chief Judge Kozinski's orders.

The brief filed late yesterday answers a series of questions posed on October 15th by federal District Judge Jeffrey S. White addressing, among other topics, whether DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution. The brief notes that, in deciding Golinski's case, Judge White may not need to rule on DOMA's constitutionality, but that application of that law's provisions to block equal employment benefits would indeed be unconstitutional. The brief explains that DOMA wrongfully discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and unconstitutionally penalizes same-sex couples because of congressional disapproval of how they exercise their fundamental rights of intimacy and marriage.

"The Obama Administration's aggressive efforts to prevent the court from enforcing its nondiscrimination protections may lead to DOMA's undoing" said Jon Davidson, Lambda Legal's Legal Director. "This began as an internal personnel matter, but the Administration has upped the ante. The Executive Branch shouldn't be interfering with the Judiciary's efforts to avoid employment discrimination. Even more so, the Administration shouldn't be invoking DOMA, a law it agrees is discriminatory, as a reason to prevent the courts from compensating their lesbian and gay employees equally. One federal court has already held DOMA unconstitutional. This could be the second."

A hearing is scheduled for December 17th. Lambda Legal represents Karen Golinski in this matter together with James McGuire and Rita Lin of Morrison & Foerster LLP.

The case is Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management.

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Contact Info

Contact: Tom Warnke; 213-382-7600 ex 247;twarnke@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.