March 1, 2011 / 12:45 AM / 9 years ago

Government presses fight over lesbian employee's benefits

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Obama administration will press ahead with its fight against one federal employee’s bid to obtain health insurance for her same-sex spouse, according to a government court filing on Monday.

A gay couple hold hands as they look at a wedding photo at their home in San Francisco, California June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal

The decision by the Justice Department comes days after it announced that a federal statute defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman — known as the Defense of Marriage Act — was unconstitutional.

Karen 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 U.S. Office of Personnel Management instructed the insurance carrier not to comply. Golinski sued OPM to enforce the order.

Given the recent Obama policy shift on the marriage act, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White issued a written order last week asking the administration to explain how it could continue defending the Golinski lawsuit.

In a filing on Monday, DOJ attorneys reiterated that Obama told executive agencies to enforce the law until Congress repealed it — even though the administration would no longer defend its constitutionality in court.

But White need not decide the law’s constitutionality to resolve the Golinski case, DOJ attorneys wrote. The Kozinski order is not enforceable through the kind of lawsuit Golinski filed, DOJ argued.

Jennifer Pizer, one of Golinski’s attorneys, said it would have been much more “helpful and consistent” with Obama’s shift had government lawyers taken the position that Golinski could reenroll her wife in the family health plan.

“That is the correct answer in this case,” Pizer said.

A DOJ representative declined to comment beyond the court filing.

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.

Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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