In a first-of-its-kind move, the Obama administration’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has ordered a health insurer to provide benefits to a same-sex married couple.
Federal employee Karen Golinski and her wife Amy Cunninghis have been fighting the denial of benefits — because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — through the legal system for four years.
The order follows a February decision by a District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White, who ruled that DOMA “unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex married couples.”
The policy reasons for adopting DOMA, taken from its 1996 legislative history in Congress, pointed to moral disapproval of gay people and their relationships as the main inspiration, the statute coming as a reaction to promising advances in same-sex marriage litigation in Hawaii.
But as the 2003 ruling in the Supreme Court which struck down sodomy laws made clear, moral disapproval is an impermissible ground for government discrimination. White also found that the argument of limiting marriage to different-sex couples to steer procreation toward households headed by a father and a mother failed to survive even the rational basis test.
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the US House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republican Speaker John Boehner, intervened in the case in the wake of the Justice Department’s announcement last year it would no longer defend DOMA.
Lawyer Tara Borelli, with Lambda Legal, which represents the couple, told the Washington Post, “We’re thrilled for Karen and Amy who have been waiting for years for this equal treatment.”
In their letter to the insurer, Bluecross, the OPM said that its decision “has no effect on enrollments requested by other same-sex spouses.”
BLAG has filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit, which the Department of Justice is seeking to speed up, calling the resolution of the case a “constitutional question of exceptional importance and urgency.”
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