DOMA Under Fire in Equal Benefits Case

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LBGT people and people living with HIV.

Our Sponsors

Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster LLP Refile
April 14, 2011
Tara Borelli

"At the heart of this matter is the unconstitutionality of DOMA and we're eager to hasten its demise."

(San Francisco, April 14, 2011)—Today Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster LLP filed an amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in its case representing Karen Golinski, a federal court employee denied spousal health benefits for her wife.

"At the heart of this matter is the unconstitutionality of DOMA and we're eager to hasten its demise," said Tara Borelli, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles. "We hope that Karen can soon have the same spousal health coverage that her heterosexual colleagues may rely upon without a second thought."

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ordered in 2009 that Golinski should be given the family coverage after Golinski filed an internal employment discrimination complaint, but the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), part of the executive branch of the federal government, thwarted those orders and refused to allow Golinski to enroll her spouse for health coverage. Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster LLP filed suit last year seeking to stop OPM's interference with Chief Judge Kozinski's order that Golinski receive equal treatment. The lawsuit sought to proceed in a streamlined fashion by requesting enforcement of the court's non-discrimination rule without having to address DOMA. In light of the complex procedural posture of the case, however, and other subsequent court rulings that made DOMA's unconstitutionality clearer, a federal judge dismissed the case last month and invited Golinski to file a case presenting a direct challenge to DOMA.

In its decision the Court underscored that all sides now agree that DOMA is discriminatory and unconstitutional: "The parties do not dispute, and the Court finds, that Plaintiff has a clear right to relief. … The Court would, if it could, address the constitutionality of both the legislative decision to enact Section 3 of DOMA to unfairly restrict benefits and privileges to state-sanctioned same-sex marriages or address the conflict regarding the Executive's decision not to defend the constitutionality of a law it has determined appropriate to enforce. However, the Court is not able to reach these constitutional issues due to the unique procedural posture of this matter." The Court asked for an amended complaint to be filed by April 15.

"Karen is being compensated differently than her coworkers because her spouse is a woman," said Rita Lin, an associate attorney at Morrison & Foerster LLP. "There is no adequate reason for the federal government to be compensating its employees differently on that basis."

Department of Justice attorneys representing the executive branch of the federal government have argued that DOMA prohibits equal insurance benefits for Golinski, a 19-year employee of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who has been seeking family insurance coverage for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, since 2008. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder announced in February that they believe that DOMA is unconstitutional, but the government has refused to allow the benefits to be provided until a court orders them or DOMA is repealed.

Lambda Legal's Tara Borelli and Jon Davidson together with Morrison & Foerster's Rita Lin, James McGuire, Gregory Dresser and Aaron Jones represent Karen Golinski.

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.

Read the complaint.