courtroom drama

Will Obama Fight to Keep the Fed From Giving Gays Spousal Benefits?

Judge Alex Kozinski

News that John Berry, Obama’s highest ranking gay, oversaw yet another administration-approved denial of gay rights should no longer be a surprise. This is status quo.

Buried in the Thanksgiving news cycle is a report that Berry’s Office of Personnel Management — which oversees some million-plus federal employees — has been told by a U.S. Court of Appeals judge to butt the fuck out of his earlier ruling demanding the federal government provide spousal benefits to Karen Golinski’s wife, who she married in California before Prop 8.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit — appointed by President Ronald Reagan as a conservative and described by one blogger as the “Brangelina of the federal judiciary” — has given Obama’s lawyers 30 days to respond to the order, which surfaced after OPM rejected Golinski’s insurance filing. And while Kozinski isn’t directly involving himself in the gay rights fight, the outcome is inevitable is Obama directs OPM to once again challenge the ruling.

Kozinski’s unusual and bluntly worded Golinski order comes 10 months after the judge, acting in his capacity as administrator in an employee dispute resolution, determined that the federal Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts had erred in rejecting Golinski’s inclusion of her wife on her insurance election form. Sidestepping constitutional questions about equal treatment for gays under the law, he agreed that the Defense of Marriage Act forbids the government from recognizing gay marriages. But Kozinski’s argument centers on the Federal Health Benefits Act, which says that coverage must be provided for an employee’s family, including a spouse and children under the age of 21. While the Administration interpreted that as meaning the coverage could only be provided for couples whose marriages are recognized under federal law, Kozinski reasoned that the law should be seen as setting a minimum standard for coverage, and that policies could include grandparents living at home, children until they are 25 or, as in Golinski’s case, a woman with whom she is raising a child and is married to under state law.

And if OPM — and, thus, Obama — doesn’t comply? Kozinski is gonna take off his gold hoops, fake nails, and grab that razor from underneath his tongue and get nasty with the feds, using his bench to require the Executive Branch to comply. And if the Justice Department has anything to do with it, we’ll be booking front row seats to another slow paced gay rights courtroom brawl. One involving OPM’s Berry, who, uh, we’re supposed to be championing as a symbol of Obama’s commitment to queer Americans.

But for what it’s worth, we know the battle will be entertaining. Kozinski is a man who, after all, likes to win while others are watching: