U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken, a federal judge in Oakland, California, late Thursday struck down as unconstitutional a provision of DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act. This is the second federal judge to rule the same segment of DOMA unconstitutional and at least the fifth federal case to find the 1996 law unconstitutional. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have also declared the law — which bans same-sex couples from receiving legal federal recognition of their unions, about 1100 benefits afforded automatically to heterosexual couples, and defines marriage as one man, one woman — unconstitutional, and are refusing to defend it in court.
“Wilken issued her ruling in a lawsuit filed against the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS, by same-sex couples. The system has refused to let gay spouses enroll in its federally approved insurance program on the ground that they were excluded by DOMA,” an article by the Bay City News Service published in The Herald reported:
Wilken said the DOMA ban violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment. She wrote that there was no proof the DOMA provision was “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco issued a similar ruling” in February in a lawsuit filed by Karen Golinski, a federal appeals court staff attorney who wants to enroll her wife in
the court’s employee health plan.
An appeal of White’s decision by a Republican-led Congressional group is slated to be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in September.
The group, known as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, is made up of the five top leaders of the House of Representatives. It stepped into both the cases before White and Wilken after the Obama Administration said last year it will no longer defend DOMA.
The group’s three Republican members, including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, supported intervening in the two lawsuits to defend DOMA. Its two Democratic members, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, opposed doing so.
In Thursday’s ruling, Wilken also struck down a U.S. Internal Revenue Service law to the extent that it bars domestic partners from enrolling in the long-term care insurance plan offered by CalPERS.
She ordered CalPERS to begin allowing gay and lesbian spouses and partners to enroll in the plan, but also said she will suspend that order during an appeal if the Congressional group files an appeal.
Wilken had indicated, in two previous rulings in which she declined to dismiss the case, that she was likely to strike down the DOMA provision.
DOMA was previously declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro in two cases on July 8, 2010.
DOMA was also found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California on June 13, 2011, and in an historic break with tradition, the decision was signed by 20 of the District’s 24 judges.
More recently, in a February decision in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management case, DOMA was also ruled unconstitutional.
There are currently two companion bills in the U.S. House and Senate to repeal DOMA, but it is widely believed they do not yet have the votes needed to pass.
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