U.S. District Court Hears Oral Argument in Case Challenging Constitutionality of DOMA
(San Francisco, December 16, 2011)—The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard oral arguments today in the case brought by Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster challenging the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of Karen Golinski, a federal court employee denied spousal health coverage for her wife.
“Throughout this case, Karen Golinski has sought nothing more than what every heterosexual married employee in her office enjoys—the right to enroll her spouse in the company health plan. Because of DOMA, she can’t,” said Tara Borelli, staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles. “There is no excuse for this discriminatory law, and DOMA is on its last legs.”
“The demise of this discriminatory statute is long overdue,” said Rita Lin, associate attorney at Morrison & Foerster. “In effect, DOMA produces circumstances where certain federal employees are compensated differently than their coworkers because of the gender of their spouses. That’s unconstitutional.”
This battle began in 2008, when Golinski, a 20-year employee of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, sought to enroll her wife, Amy Cunninghis, in the employee health plan. Notwithstanding two separate orders by Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski directing that Golinski be allowed to enroll Cunninghis in the health plan, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) denied her request, citing DOMA. In April, Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster filed an amended complaint directly challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. Shortly before the filing of the amended complaint, President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that they believe DOMA to be unconstitutional and the administration would no longer defend DOMA in court, and the majority leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives hired outside counsel to defend the statute.
Today’s arguments involve an attempt by the defenders of DOMA to get the case dismissed, and Golinski’s request that the court issue a final judgment in her favor, declaring DOMA unconstitutional and ordering that Golinski be allowed to enroll her spouse in her family health care plan, as her married heterosexual co-workers are permitted to do.
The case is Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management.
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.