Last week a federal judge in the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the gay spouse of a federal employee is entitled to the same spousal health benefits that any heterosexual spouse would receive. Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled that the denial of spousal benefits “cannot be justified simply by a distaste for or disapproval of same-sex marriage or to discourage exercising a legal right afforded them by the state,’ reported the Los Angeles Times. This ruling is in direct contradiction to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which states that the federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriage.
According to MSNBC, in July 2008, Tony Sears had been denied health benefits after he married Brad Levenson, a deputy federal public defender for the 9th Circuit Court. Levenson appealed to the 9th Circuit’s Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders, chaired by Judge Reinhardt.
In a separate case last month, the 9th Circuit’s chief justice, Alex Kozinski, also granted same-sex benefits to the same-sex spouse of 9th Circuit lawyer Karen Golinski. Kozinski considered the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act “vague” about the use of benefits for non-family members and thus ruled that Golinski’s spouse should be covered.
Both cases were considered internal employee grievances and have no legal merit outside of the court’s executive office, but the rulings seriously question the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Sears and Levenson told the Los Angeles Times that they see this as “a step along the road to equality.”