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Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules in California Case

February 22, 2012 |  4:10 pm

A federal judge on Wednesday declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and ordered the federal government to extend health benefits to the same-sex spouse of a San Francisco lawyer employed by the federal courts.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White said the refusal of the Office of Personnel Management to enroll 9th Circuit attorney Karen Golinski's spouse in the federal agency's benefits program violated her constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

White, who was named to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2002, said the dictates of the Defense of Marriage Act reflected a history of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and that there was no rational justification for denying benefits to gay and lesbian spouses of federal employees.

White's ruling in the Golinski case was the first since U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced a year ago that the Obama administration considered the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional and would no longer defend it against legal challenges like the one brought by Golinski in 2008.

Justice Department lawyers have declined to defend the statute since then, but a conservative-led legal panel of the House of Representatives intervened to argue in White's court in December that the law prohibiting the provision of any federal benefits to same-sex spouses was valid.

"The court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law ... without substantial justification or rational basis," White wrote.

The statute's provision denying same-sex spousal benefits has also been declared unconstitutional in a Massachusetts case. That ruling is on appeal before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.


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