BREAKING: DOMA's Federal Definition of Marriage Unconstitutional, Judge Rules in Golinski Case

Posted by Chris Geidner
February 22, 2012 5:35 PM |

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued its order finding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act -- the federal definition of marriage -- is unconstitutional in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, Karen Golinski's challenge to the denial of her request for equal health insurance benefits for her wife.

Golinski, a federal court employee, brought suit after her request was denied. She is represented by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Because President Obama and the Department of Justice have stopped defending Section 3 of DOMA in court challenges, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group -- led by House Republican leadership -- had opposed Golinski's request in court.

In part, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White today found that Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection rights of Golinski, finding that heightened scrutiny applies -- as urged by the DOJ -- and noting that it might not even pass rational basis -- the lowest -- legal scrutiny:

The Court concludes that, based on the justifications proffered by Congress for its passage of DOMA, the statute fails to satisfy heightened scrutiny and is unconstitutional as applied to Ms. Golinski.

Although the Court finds that DOMA is subject to and fails to satisfy heightened scrutiny, it notes that numerous courts have found that the statute fails even rational basis review.

Later, he wrote:

The Court finds that neither Congress' claimed legislative justifications nor any of the proposed reasons proffered by BLAG constitute bases rationally related to any of the alleged governmental interests. Further, after concluding that neither the law nor the record can sustain any of the interests suggested, the Court, having tried on its own, cannot conceive of any additional interests that DOMA might further.

Finally:

The Court has found that DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex married couples. Even though animus is clearly present in its legislative history, the Court, having examined that history, the arguments made in its support, and the effects of the law, is persuaded that something short of animus may have motivated DOMA’s passage:

Prejudice, we are beginning to understand, rises not from malice or hostile animus alone. It may result as well from insensitivity caused by simple want of careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves.

Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374-75 (2001) (Kennedy, J., concurring).

In conclusion, White, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2002, finds and orders:

In this matter, the Court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage to prevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse.

Accordingly, the Court issues a permanent injunction enjoining defendants, and those acting at their direction or on their behalf, from interfering with the enrollment of Ms. Golinski's wife in her family health benefits plan.

On July 8, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro reached similar decisions about the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. United States. Those cases are on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

In a statement, Lambda Legal celebrated today's ruling.

"This ruling, the first to come after the Justice Department announced it would no longer defend this discriminatory statute in court, spells doom for DOMA," Tara Borelli, the lead Lambda Legal attorney on the case, said. "The Court recognized the clear fact 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 embodied in the Fifth Amendment."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took aim at House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Republican leadership in a statement, saying, "In rejecting the arguments of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, the court's ruling also reaffirmed a core belief of the majority of House Democrats: that the House is not united in this case; that the BLAG lawyers do not speak for Congress; and that BLAG's intervention remains a waste of taxpayer resources."

She continued: "The court made it clear that there is no legitimate federal interest in denying married gay and lesbian couples the legal security, rights, and responsibilities guaranteed to all married couples under state law."

A spokesman for Boehner did not immediately respond to a request from Metro Weekly for comment.

READ the ruling: GolinskiVOPM.pdf


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