Golinski gains benefits; appeal continues

Lesbian attorney Karen Golinski can now get health coverage for her spouse, but no other federal employee can so Lambda Legal’s lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in the Ninth Circuit continues.

A March 9 letter from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, to an official of the insurance company that provides health coverage to employees of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, directs the company to provide coverage for Golinski’s same-sex spouse. Golinski is employed by the Ninth Circuit.

The OPM letter, from OPM official Shirley Patterson, indicates that the directive applies only to Golinski’s spouse and “has no effect on enrollments requested by other same-sex spouses.” The letter indicates it is written in response to a February 22 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White. White ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the rights of gays and lesbians to equal protection of the law.

OPM, the federal agency that oversees the federal workforce, had originally instructed the insurance company not to enroll Golinski’s spouse, noting that DOMA precluded the federal employer from recognizing Golinski’s marriage.

In Feburary 2011, the Department of Justice announced it would no longer defend DOMA as constitutional in court but would continue enforcing it. Since then, the Republican-controlled U.S. House hired an attorney to defend the law in court.

Lambda Legal attorney Tara Borelli, who is helping to representing Golinski in the lawsuit, said Judge White’s order required OPM to grant benefits to Golinski only. But, said Borelli, “the point of this case is to

secure relief from DOMA’s discrimination for as many others as possible.”

DOJ appealed Judge White’s decision to the Ninth Circuit in order to allow the attorney hired by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to defend DOMA. Borelli noted that DOJ has also asked the Ninth Circuit to expedite its consideration of the appeal request that the full court hear the appeal —rather than the usual first-step of it being heard by a three-judge panel.

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