A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive] is unconstitutional. The plaintiff, Karen Golinski, filed suit [JURIST report] against the US Office of Personnel Management for refusing extend health insurance benefits to her same-sex spouse. Judge Jeffrey White ruled that statutory classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny and that the legislation was not "substantially related to an important governmental objective." As a result, White concluded that DOMA violated Golinski's right to Equal Protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment [text] to the US Constitution. The court issued a permanent injunction against the defendants ordering them not to impede Golinski's wife from enrolling in the family health insurance coverage.
The district court's ruling is the most recent development in the debate regarding the constitutionality of DOMA and its repeal. The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] voted to repeal DOMA [JURIST report] in November, marking the first time a Congressional group has voted to repeal the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In a similar case this past October, a disabled Navy veteran filed a notice of appeal [JURIST report] with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims [official website] for denying her partner a share of her disability benefits under DOMA. The Department of Veterans Affairs [official website] allegedly told the veteran she could not receive benefits because her spouse was a woman. In March 2011, congressional Democrats introduced the Respect for Marriage Act [text], which was intended to repeal DOMA [JURIST report], but it has not yet passed. The Congressional action follows an announcement from US President Barack Obama last year that he would continue to fight for the repeal [JURIST report] of DOMA, and last year's announcement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] that it will no longer defend the constitutionality [JURIST report] of Section 3 of DOMA in court cases challenging the provision.