The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group Feb. 24 appealed the ruling by District Court Judge Jeffrey White in the case of a federal court employee denied health coverage for her partner.
White found that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, violated plaintiff Karen Golinski’s federal right to equal protection under the law.
Golinski married partner Amy Cunninghis in 2008 during the brief period when same-sex marriage was legal in California.
An attorney in the 9th Court of Appeals, Golinski attempted in 2008 to add her wife to her health-insurance plan but was denied, setting off the suit, which was spearheaded by Lambda Legal.
White’s opinion is the first federal ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA since Attorney General Eric Holder announced last February that the federal government would no longer back the law in court.
The Department of Justice was originally defending DOMA in Golinski’s case, but the head of DOJ’s civil division has since joined Golinski’s team of attorneys.
White, appointed to the San Francisco bench by former President George W. Bush, is the second federal judge to find this section of DOMA violates the equal-protection clause. The BLAG is appealing a similar 2010 ruling in Massachusetts.
Tara Borelli, staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office, said White’s finding “spells doom for DOMA.”
White asserted that the law does not advance a strong government interest, which means it would fail the heightened scrutiny test for constitutionality, and said it would not live up to the rational-basis test, a less stringent evaluation of constitutionality.
“The imposition of subjective moral beliefs of a majority upon a minority cannot provide a justification for the legislation,” he wrote, adding that other seeming arguments for DOMA do not pass muster either. “Tradition alone cannot form an adequate justification for a law. The ‘ancient lineage’ of classification does not render it legitimate. Instead, the government must have an interest separate and apart from the fact of tradition itself.”
White also criticized the common argument that same-sex marriage could be harmful to children, stating that denying same-sex couples the right to marry constitutes a danger to children in those families.
Borelli said White’s ruling reflects “that a law that denies one class of individuals the rights and benefits available to all others because of their sexual orientation violates the constitutional guarantee of equality.”
White additionally issued an injunction barring the government from denying Golinski benefits for her wife.
Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a memo to House Speaker John Boehner calling BLAG’s intervention “a waste of taxpayer resources.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.