San Francisco same-sex couple wins insurance case, deals another blow to DOMA
November 26, 2012
Last week, the Judicial Council of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a same-sex couple in an legal case involving a government insurance plan. The case involves Christopher Nathan, a law clerk in San Francisco who works for U.S. Magistrate Maria Elena James. Nathan legally married his husband, Thomas Alexander, in 2008 during the five-month period when same-sex couples were permitted to marry in California. When Nathan tried to get his government insurance plan to include his husband, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts rejected his request, citing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the law that prohibits federal respect of lawful marriages between same-sex couples.
Since 1996, DOMA has deprived legally married same-sex couples of over 1,000 protections and responsibilities afforded to different-sex couples - including the ability for gay and lesbian federal employees to apply their government insurance coverage to their same-sex partner.
In April, Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware said the denial violated the federal court's rules against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, and ordered the court to reimburse Nathan for the costs of buying private insurance.
The Judicial Council, the final authority in the administrative review process, went a step further in this week's order and said DOMA has been held unconstitutional by a San Francisco federal judge in another employee's case. The three-judge panel ordered the court to determine how much it owes Nathan and then pay him within 10 days.
The victory for Christopher and Thomas represents a significant demonstration of the fact that federal judges across the country are speaking out against DOMA whenever possible. It is important to note, however, that the ruling does not carry the weight of an actual judicial decision like the 10 other federal rulings that have struck down the discriminatory DOMA over the past two years.
This week, the United States Supreme Court is scheduled to deliberate on five legal challenges to DOMA. Five DOMA challenges - all cases where the law has been ruled unconstitutional by previous judges - have been submitted to the Supreme Court for potential review. The meeting for these cases - the consolidated Gill v. O.P.M. and Massachusetts v. Dept of HHS challenge, Golinski v. O.P.M., Windsor v. United States, and Pedersen v. O.P.M. - is scheduled for Friday, November 30. If the Supreme Court decides to take one or more of these cases, it will likely reach a ruling in the early summer of 2013. Read about each of the cases HERE.
Freedom to Marry congratulates Christopher and Thomas on their win and continues to point to cases like theirs to demonstrate that time and time again, DOMA is being found unconstitutional and discriminatory.