February 22, 2012 / 10:23 PM / 8 years ago

Gay spouse given health benefits in U.S. court case

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday ruled that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and said a federal government worker should be allowed to enroll her same-sex spouse in her health insurance coverage.

Two men walk inside San Francisco City Hall as they prepare to get married on the first full day of legal same-sex marriage in California June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal

The ruling came from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco.

Congress passed DOMA in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. It prevents same-sex couples who are legally married in a handful of states from enjoying more than 1,000 federal benefits awarded to heterosexual married couples.

Karen Golinski, the plaintiff in the case, has worked as a staff attorney for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for several years.

She sued the U.S. government after it refused to enroll her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, on her federal family health insurance plan. The couple married during a five-month legal window in California before voters in 2008 passed Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban.

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice initially argued that DOMA prohibited Cunninghis from receiving the same benefits as she would receive if Golinski were a man.

Last year, however, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama called DOMA unconstitutional and said that while they would continue to enforce it, they would quit defending it in court.

In response, the U.S. House of Representatives - which is controlled by Republicans - stepped in to defend the law.

In his ruling on Wednesday, White wrote that animus towards gays “is clearly present” in the legislative history from when the law was passed. The federal government has traditionally refrained from inserting itself into spousal relations, White wrote.

“The Court finds that the passage of DOMA, rather than maintaining the status quo in the arena of domestic relations, stands in stark contrast to it,” White wrote.

Attorneys for the House of Representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

White, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican. issued a permanent injunction preventing the government from further interfering with Golinski’s ability to enroll her wife in the insurance program.

Reporting By Dan Levine; Editing by Eric Beech and Cynthia Osterman

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