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Federal judge allows state employees to sue for same-sex spouse benefits

A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled Tuesday that California state employees can sue for discrimination over the exclusion of their same-sex spouses from long-term health care programs. The Obama administration had been seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed on the basis of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], but Judge Claudia Wilken allowed the lawsuit to proceed [San Francisco Chronicle report]. Under DOMA, same-sex couples legally married in the state are prevented from accessing the federal rights and benefits afforded to opposite-sex spouses, including the right to sponsor a spouse for immigration, the right to Social Security survivors benefits, the right to health insurance from a spouse who is federally employed and the right to jointly file income taxes. Three employees of the University of California - San Francisco filed the lawsuit because the Public Employees' Retirement System said it would not enroll their same-sex spouses [AP report] in a federally approved long-term care program.

In August, the California Senate voted 22-12 [roll call vote] in favor of a joint resolution [AJR 19 text] to urge the federal government to repeal DOMA [JURIST report]. In July, DOMA was struck down [JURIST report] by a Massachusetts federal judge in two separate cases. In one case, Judge Joseph Tauro held that the DOMA violated the principles of equal protection embodied in the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause as a matter of law. In the other case, Tauro found [opinion, PDF] that the DOMA violates states' Tenth Amendment right to define marriage. In August 2009, a judge for the US District Court for the Central District Court of California [official website] dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit challenging DOMA on jurisdictional grounds [JURIST report].

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