The federal court in the US yesterday moved the advancement of marriage equality civil liberties forward another notch with a ruling in the District Court for the Northern District of California that declared that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Federal judge Jeffery White, who was appointed to the bench back in 2002 by then President George W. Bush, ruled yesterday that DOMA violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause in a case brought by Karen Golinski (a woman who was denied spousal health benefits by the federal government because she is married to another woman). This is the second time DOMA has been declared unconstitutional by a US court … the first instance took place in Massachusetts and that cause is currently awaiting appeal in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Essentially what this means is that this latest ruling is yet another huge step forward toward the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US.
A federal judge on Wednesday declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and ordered the federal government to extend health benefits to the same-sex spouse of a San Francisco lawyer employed by the federal courts. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White said the refusal of the Office of Personnel Management to enroll 9th Circuit attorney Karen Golinski’s spouse in the federal agency’s benefits program violated her constitutional right to equal protection under the law. White, who was named to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2002, said the dictates of the Defense of Marriage Act reflected a history of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and that there was no rational justification for denying benefits to gay and lesbian spouses of federal employees. White’s ruling in the Golinski case was the first since U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced a year ago that the Obama administration considered the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional and would no longer defend it against legal challenges like the one brought by Golinski in 2008. Justice Department lawyers have declined to defend the statute since then, but a conservative-led legal panel of the House of Representatives intervened to argue in White’s court in December that the law prohibiting the provision of any federal benefits to same-sex spouses was valid. “The court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law … without substantial justification or rational basis,” White wrote.
This may sound a bit confusing to those of you who are not familiar with the way the US court system works and/or have not been following all of the various legal battles going on in the advancement of marriage equality in the US. While some of the other legal battles have been brought before the court State by State making the argument that denying same-sex couples the right to marry at all is a violation of their civil liberties, other legal battles like this one in California (and the other case in Massachusetts) have been taking place in States that have already legalized same-sex marriage. California (for a brief period) and Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage … so those States legally married same-sex couples in their own States. Those couples have attempted to enjoy the same rights and benefits from the federal government that heterosexual couples enjoy but have been denied those rights and benefits because the federal government does not recognize the legality of same-sex marriage. The ruling in this case is one of 2 legal challenges to the federal government’s refusal to afford the same rights and benefits to same-sex couples that they grant to heterosexual couples … and because BOTH rulings found that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, it is even more likely now that DOMA will be struck down altogether and the federal government will — eventually — find that both same-sex married couples and heterosexual couples should be allowed to enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married couples.
Yeah, again … this may still be confusing but … trust me, this ruling is GREAT NEWS and will stand as another MOVE FOWARD toward the full legalization of same-sex marriage in the entire US. Bit by bit, the US is moving toward affording TRUE liberty, justice and freedom for all of its citizens. We will get there some day. And court rulings like this one give me hope that that day will come soon.