Shift in DOMA Policy Prompts Questions from Judge in Lambda Legal's <em>Golinski v. OPM</em>

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Answers Due Monday in First Court Action to Show Impact of New Policy

Date

Date: 
02/24/2011
Jennifer C. Pizer

"This is the first court to request an immediate clarification from the government on how it can keep denying equal rights to lesbians and gay men based on a law the Justice Department itself says is unconstitutional."

(San Francisco, February 24, 2011)—A federal judge has requested the U.S. Department of Justice to explain how it plans to defend denying spousal health benefits to a lesbian federal employee, following an announcement yesterday by the Obama administration that it believes the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White has given government attorneys until Monday, February 28, to respond.

Lambda Legal and the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP represent Karen Golinski, a 19-year employee of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Golinski seeks the same employee health benefits for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, that heterosexual court employees receive for their spouses. Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski has issued several rulings in Golinski's favor, which the federal Office of Personnel Management ignored—claiming, among other reasons, that DOMA prohibited the provision of health insurance benefits to Golinski's wife. Lambda Legal's case, Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, requests an order directing OPM to stop interfering with Kozinski's prior rulings.

White issued a series of four questions asking the Justice Department to explain how the government plans to pursue its defense of the case following yesterday's announcement that President Obama and Attorney General Holder have concluded that DOMA is unconstitutional and inappropriate to defend.
"This is the first court to request an immediate clarification from the government on how it can keep denying equal rights to lesbians and gay men based on a law the Justice Department itself says is unconstitutional," said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "This shows just how big a sea change yesterday's Justice Department announcement was—not only has the department itself now said that it is unwilling to continue defending a blatantly unconstitutional law, but it's going to be hard to ignore its assessment that any sort of law that discriminates based on sexual orientation must be presumed to be unconstitutional."

Lambda Legal's Jennifer C. Pizer represents Golinski together with Rita Lin, James McGuire, Gregory Dresser and Aaron Jones of Morrison & Foerster LLP.

The case is Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management and John Berry, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in his official capacity.

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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.