Constitutional Law

Judge Rules for 9th Circuit Staff Lawyer Seeking Federal Health Benefits for Same-Sex Spouse

Updated: A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act violates the equal protection rights of a California lawyer.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled on behalf of Karen Golinski, a staff lawyer for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco, report the New York Times, the Associated Press and SCOTUSblog. Golinski’s wife, Amy Cunninghis, is seeking federal health insurance. The couple was married when gay marriage was legal in California.

Section 3 of DOMA bars the federal government from granting benefits to same-sex couples. White’s ruling (PDF) is the second by a federal judge since the Obama administration changed its stance and announced it will no longer defend the law, according to SCOTUSblog.

White evaluated DOMA using a heightened standard of scrutiny, but said the law would have been unconstitutional as applied to Golinski even under rational basis review, SCOTUSblog says. He cited several reasons for the higher level of scrutiny. Among them: Gays and lesbians have faced a history of discrimination, and sexual orientation appears to be an “immutable characteristic” or at least “highly resistant to change.”

Prior DOMA coverage: “Two Federal Lawyers Win Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses in 9th Circuit Orders” “9th Cir. Lawyer Sues Obama Admin Over Withheld Benefits for Same-Sex Spouse” “King & Spalding Drops DOMA Defense; Clement Resigns in Protest, Takes Matter to Bancroft” “Obama Concludes Federal Law Banning Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage Is Unconstitutional” “ABA Supports Legislation Authorizing US Recognition of State-Sanctioned Same-Sex Marriages” “Citing 10th Amendment, Federal Judge Strikes US Defense of Marriage Act” “Bankruptcy Court Says Same-Sex Married Couple Can File Jointly Despite DOMA Prohibition”

Updated at 9:10 a.m. to add prior coverage. Updated on Feb. 24 to reflect SCOTUSblog correction indicating the ruling is the second by a federal judge since the Obama administration changed its stance

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