U.S. House leadership appeals decision on federal recognition of gay marriage

“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,” states the ruling by Judge White, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.

“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,” it states.

The case challenged only Section 3 of DOMA, which defines “marriage” as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and “spouse” as “only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” for the purposes of federal law. Other important sections of DOMA include Section 2, which allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed by other states.

Golinski was represented by Lambda Legal and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster.

“The demise of this discriminatory statute is long overdue, and the court’s ruling today makes that clear,” said Rita Lin, associate at Morrison & Foerster, said in a press release. “DOMA produces circumstances where certain federal employees are compensated differently than their coworkers because of their sexual orientation. That’s unconstitutional.”

The law was defended in court by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives after President Obama’s Department of Justice declared that it believed Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional and would no longer defend it in court, although the federal government would continue to enforce the law until it was overturned through either Congress or the courts.

“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,” said Tara Borelli, staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles.

If so, it is only the beginning of the end. The bi-partisan house group — led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — filed notice Feb. 24 of its intent to appeal the ruling, the Washington Blade reported. The two Democratic members objected to the appeal.

The Feb. 22 district court decision disputes many of the justifications for DOMA cited by Congress when the law was approved in 1996, and reiterated by BLAG, including that banning gay couples from marrying is necessary to encourage procreation and child-rearing.

The district court ruling also disagrees with the argument that DOMA is needed for “defending and nurturing traditional, opposite-sex marriage.”

“DOMA does nothing to encourage same-sex married individuals to marry members of the opposite sex because they are already married to a member of the same sex,” the court notes. “Nor does the denial of benefits to same-sex couples do anything to encourage opposite-sex couples to get married.”

Top photo: Karen Golinski (right) is suing the government because, as a federal employee, she is not allowed to include her wife, Amy Cunninghis, on her health insurance. (courtesy Lambda Legal)