Lesbian U.S. employee set back in benefits fight

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Mar 16, 2011 7:22pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday dealt a setback to a lesbian federal employee's bid to obtain health insurance for her same-sex spouse, according to a court ruling.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White dismissed a lawsuit on procedural grounds brought by Karen Golinski, and denied her request for an injunction.

He left the door open for Golinski to directly challenge the constitutionality of the benefits denial.

The administration of President Barack Obama has opposed Golinski's lawsuit, even after the Justice Department announced last month that a federal statute defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman -- known as the Defense of Marriage Act -- was unconstitutional.

Golinski, a lawyer who works for a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco, requested in 2008 that her same-sex spouse be added to her family health insurance plan, according to court filings.

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, acting as a court administrator, ordered Golinski's insurance carrier to provide the benefits.

However, the Office of Personnel Management instructed the insurance carrier not to comply. Golinski sued the personnel office to enforce the order.

In response, administration attorneys did not argue the constitutionality of the law. Rather, they said Kozinski's order was not enforceable through the kind of lawsuit Golinski filed.

White agreed on Wednesday, but wrote that he would address the constitutionality of the law to "unfairly" restrict benefits if it were placed before him. The judge gave Golinski's lawyers a chance to file an amended lawsuit.

Jennifer Pizer, a lawyer for Golinski, said they would submit new arguments by April 15, along the lines White described.

"We're hoping to achieve a result for Karen and her family in the near term," Pizer said.

A Justice Department representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Karen Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management and John Berry, 10-257.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)

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