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Breaking: DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Judge, Yet Again

by David Badash on May 25, 2012

in Civil Rights,Discrimination,DOMA,Legal Issues,Marriage

Post image for Breaking: DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Judge, Yet Again

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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Lou Gagliardi May 25, 2012 at 2:56 am

Victories one step at a time.

ShifreJane May 25, 2012 at 4:28 am

But what incredible steps! It is now incumbent on all of us who believe in true equal rights to work hard to combat the dissension that plagues Congress and vote for legislators that are willing to work together — moving forward, out of the muck into which our country has descended.

HenryJ May 25, 2012 at 9:26 am

Help remind me what the 5th court case is. I only count four including this case.

Scott_Rose May 25, 2012 at 9:33 am

NOM and other anti-gay hate groups love to point out that President Clinton signed DOMA. Therefore it is important to point out that Clinton appointed Judge Wilken (along with pointing out that Bush appointed Judge White).

Song1964 May 25, 2012 at 9:36 am

How many times does it need to be declared unconstitutional before it is declared unconstitutional for all?

HenryJ May 25, 2012 at 10:05 am

OK – I remember now. Tauro issued rulings on two different cases at the same time. The cases were 1) Gill vs. Office of Personnel Management and 2) Massachusetts vs. Health and Human Services.
Song1964. It does take time to wind its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. As it stands now many people would say these court cases all come out of liberal courts and shouldn't count in their jurisdiction. That is why it is important to have the Supreme Court rule on the matter. All of these cses, plus DADT federal court rulings in Log Cabin Republicans as welll as DADT related to Maj. Margaret Witt plus CA Prop 8 help set legal precedent, expert court testimony and case rulings that will be highly critical in helping the Supreme Court come to their conclusion. I am not very patient either, but I understand that has to be the process. Of course we could stop all of that with Congress repealing DOMA and voting for gay marriage at the federal level. Sounds like a stretch, but on the current trajectory it could happen. Timewise, however, the court will likely rule first (probably within a year).

Song1964 May 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Thanks Henry J, I and my friends are impatient. We are bi-national same sex couples. I have friends who have been legally married for over seven years, they have yet to live under the same roof. Another couple has been together for three years and now legally married, but the longest time they have been together has been a little under three months. I have several friends who live outside the USA now just to be with their spouses. It is a shame that we cannot have some sort of immigration reform.

DonG90806 May 26, 2012 at 3:21 am

Although Judge Tauro sits in Mass., he is anything but liberal. He was appointed by Pres. Nixon in 1972 and is a very conservative judge. In both cases, he had no problem declaring DOMA unconstitutional in both cases. And a Federal Court Judge here in California, appointed by Pres. Bush, also declared DOMA unconstitutional. So, it's not necessary that we wish or hope for some liberal justices. The law is on our side.

HenryJ May 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

Scott Rose — Judge Donovan would also have been appointed under Clinton and reappointed under Bush

DeGuyzinMS May 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I think it is an abuse of the judicial system. How many courts have to rule before they get it? It isn't going to change.

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