DOMA DOWN

Bush-Appointed Judge Rules DOMA Is Unconstitutional in CA Case

California District Court Judge Jeffery White (right), who was appointed by our good friend George W. Bush in 2002, has just ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Constitution’s equal-protection clause in a case involving spousal benefits for Amy Cunninghis, the lesbian partner of Karen Golinski, who actually works for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Golinski and Cunninghis registered as domestic partners in the city of San Francisco back in 1995 and with the state of California in 2003. They wed in 2008, during the brief window that same-sex marriages were recognized there—but Golinski’s employers decided they didn’t have to treat Cunninghis like Golinksi’s wife when it came to health-care benefits.

Golinski sued, claiming discrimination—and won. Back in 2009. But the Office For Personnel Management for the Ninth Court refused to follow Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s order to process the benefits application.

The case, Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, has been winding through the system until now.

Today, Judge White supported the 2009 ruling, saying that “considerations of discrimination against people based on sexual orientation should be held to heightened scrutiny,” because of the obvious history of discrimination face by the LGBT community, our ability to be productive members of society, the immutability of sexual orientation and our relative political powerlessness.

Judicial junkies can read the full opinion here.

Ever since President Obama announced the White House wouldn’t be defending DOMA anymore, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has taken up the cause with his Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG).

As ThinkProgress reports, this ruling could have negative implications for Boehner’s side. And, in his ruling, White chided Congress for inaction on the issue:

Here, too, this Court finds that Congress cannot, like an ostrich, merely bury its head in the sand and wait for danger to pass, especially at the risk of permitting continued constitutional injury upon legally married couples. The fact that the issue is socially divisive does nothing to relieve the judiciary of its obligation to examine the constitutionality of the discriminating classifications in the law.

Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, who helped represent the women, says the ruling “spells doom for DOMA.”

The Court recognized the clear fact that a law that denies one class of individuals the rights and benefits available to all others because of their sexual orientation violates the constitutional guarantee of equality embodied in the Fifth Amendment. The Court agreed with us that sexual-orientation discrimination by the government should receive heightened scrutiny under the Constitution. It then concluded that DOMA could not meet that standard, and that there was not even a rational justification to deny Karen Golinski the same spousal health care benefits that her heterosexual co-workers receive.”

Golinski expressed her gratitude over the decision as well:

“I am profoundly grateful for the thought and consideration that Judge White gave to my case,” Golinski said. “His decision acknowledges that DOMA violates the Constitution and that my marriage to Amy is equal to those marriages of my heterosexual colleagues. This decision is a huge step toward equality.”

Oh we can just hear Dubya moaning about “dem gol-durn’ activist judges.” At least until someone explains that he hired White in the first place. D’oh!

Photo: United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Lambda Legal