Federal Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

A major ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White, a Bush appointee, who has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional for violating the Constitution's guarantee of equality.

Our legal expert Ari Ezra Waldman will have analysis coming up this evening. UPDATE: Read Ari's analysis HERE.

Politico's Josh Gerstein: Golinski

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White, who sits in San Francisco and was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, issued the ruling Wednesday afternoon in a case involving federal judicial law clerk Karen Golinski's request for benefits for her female spouse. White said the stated goals of DOMA, passed in 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton, could not pass muster under a so-called "heightened scrutiny" test or even a lower "rational basis" threshhold.

"The imposition of subjective moral beliefs of a majority upon a minority cannot provide a justification for the legislation. The obligation of the Court is 'to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code,'" White wrote. "Tradition alone, however, cannot form an adequate justification for a law….The 'ancient lineage” of a classification does not render it legitimate….Instead, the government must have an interest separate and apart from the fact of tradition itself."

Check out the ruling here.

Reuters' Dan Levine adds:

White, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican, issued a permanent injunction preventing the government from further interfering with Golinski's ability to enroll her wife in the insurance program.

Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly pulls out some key pieces:

The Court has found that DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex married couples. Even though animus is clearly present in its legislative history, the Court, having examined that history, the arguments made in its support, and the effects of the law, is persuaded that something short of animus may have motivated DOMA’s passage:

Prejudice, we are beginning to understand, rises not from malice or hostile animus alone. It may result as well from insensitivity caused by simple want of careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves.

Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374-75 (2001) (Kennedy, J., concurring).

LambdalogoLambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli tweets: "This ruling spells doom for #DOMA."

Adds Borelli, in a press release:

"The Court recognized the clear fact that a law that denies one class of individuals the rights and benefits available to all others because of their sexual orientation violates the constitutional guarantee of equality embodied in the Fifth Amendment. The Court agreed with us that sexual orientation discrimination by the government should receive heightened scrutiny under the constitution.  It then concluded that DOMA could not meet that standard, and that there was not even a rational justification to deny Karen Golinski the same spousal health care benefits that her heterosexual co-workers receive."

And here's some extra background on the case from Lambda Legal:

Judge White's ruling is the latest victory in a battle that began in 2008, when Golinski, a 20-year employee of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, sought to enroll her wife, Amy Cunninghis, in the employee health plan.  It is the first DOMA-related ruling since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice had determined DOMA was unconstitutional and would no longer defend it, and the majority leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives hired outside counsel to defend the discriminatory statute.  A similar ruling holding DOMA unconstitutional in a separate case is on appeal in the 1st Circuit.

Golinski's struggle to enroll her spouse in the family health plan, a benefit routinely granted to her married heterosexual co-workers, travelled a torturous path, including two separate orders by Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski directing that Golinski be allowed to enroll Cunninghis in the health plan, orders ignored by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), citing DOMA.  In April 2011, Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster filed an amended complaint directly challenging the constitutionality of DOMA.  Judge White heard arguments on this amended complaint on December 16.

Said Golinski: "I am profoundly grateful for the thought and consideration that Judge White gave to my case. His decision acknowledges that DOMA violates the Constitution and that my marriage to Amy is equal to those marriages of my heterosexual colleagues.  This decision is a huge step toward equality."

Our legal expert Ari Ezra Waldman will have analysis coming up this evening. UPDATE: Read Ari's analysis HERE.


  1. Bart says

    Here we go. Let’s see where this takes us. To a panel of three judges. Then seven. Then to the Supreme Court (I guess since this is a federal law we get to skip the California Supreme Court on this one.)

    One by one we keep beating back bigotry for bigotry’s sake. And like wack-a-mole people like Santorum keep popping their rodent heads out of the ground.

    When will these people learn that bigotry against a minority is both unAmerican and antiChristian…two things they believe protects them from judgement.

  2. Boone68 says

    With Judge White being a GWB appointee, I wonder if the Fox News crowd will consider thin to be an “activist” judge. Most likely, any judge ruling against their narrowed perceptions of the world would be considered “activist”.

  3. Bingo says

    Damn! Read too fast. The “prejudice” paragraph is a quote from a Kennedy concurrence in an ADA case. Sweet!

  4. Michael Bedwell says

    Let’s spell this out a little more. The earlier rulings in her favor by a CIRCUIT Court judge were defied by Obama, Inc., until someone must have given them a V8 because, two years later, SMACK they suddenly decided they’d been wrong all along. Did anything about DOMA change? No. Did anything about the Constitution change? No. Applause, applause for finally buying in, but it’s fair to ask what political homophobia was behind their taking so long.

  5. Randall says

    It has always been very simple. Article 1 of the 14th Amendment clearly defines a citizen of the United States without mention of gender and guarantees equal protection under the law.
    Anything else is religious opinion which should never have been mandated into law in the first place.

  6. Pete n SFO says

    “prejudice… can result from insensitivity,”

    and there you have it, folks. You have just witnessed the “out” for bigots who want need a way to get around their past bigotry.

    It wasn’t “insensitivity” it was bigotry motivated by malice toward gay people & political pandering… glad for the decision, but f’n name-it.

    No one really ever benefits from denying the truth.

  7. says

    Oh Jesus, Bedwell! The DOJ is not fighting for DOMA any more. You almost sound like you’re nostalgic for the good old days when you could criticize Obama at every post. Well they’re not on the opposite side here: the GOP House is, and they lost big time.

  8. Steve says

    If suddenly gays achieved full equality in every area, Bedwell would still find something to whine and complain about. It’s all he ever does

  9. LightningBoalt says

    Not to diminish the magnitude of this decision, but Ms. Cunninghis (the plaintiff’s wife) has a rather unfortunate name.

  10. GeorgeM says

    Bedwell no matter how you cut it Obama was alway against DOMA unlike your side. He has done more and will continue to work with us unlike the D-ck heads running for the GOP.
    Dam dude

  11. Zlick says

    I am LOVING this Order. For once, a federal court demonstrates the courage of its convictions to state that DOMA does not pass Rational Basis review (and why), and still goes on – when it’s technically not necessary to do so – to declare once and for all that gays and lesbians are entitled to a standard of Heightened Scrutiny (and then state in detail why that is). Bravo Bravo.

    And it shocks me how in case after case against Teh Gheys, the bigot side has zero evidence to support their claims, and proceeds to federal court with nothing to base even a small claims case on. In my twenty years in the law business, I’ve never come across nearly as many completely lopsided cases as I have in just a handful of years studying gay discrimination cases. Sheesh.

    Anyway, I’m not done reading the order, so back I go to finish it. It’s great how often they cite the Perry case, and – as with the orders in that case at the District and Appellate level, it’s a joy to read the wonderful logic and justice in the current Golinski order. I say it again: Bravo!

    How many cases is this that have declared DOMA and marriage discrimination unconstitutional? I suppose all of them are activist judges, huh? That’s alright bigots: You keep setting ’em up, our courts will keep knocking ’em down.

  12. Michael Bedwell says

    @ georgem: “My side…the GOP”??? You simpleton. You think the only people who criticize Obama want Repugs to win? The others dissing my reminding them of Obama’s duplicity need to pull their heads out of his ass. YOU need to pull yours out of your own.

  13. JoshG says

    Lovely rhetoric, Michael.

    Vastly oversimplified and lacking recent historical context, but if it makes you happy to cast responses to complicated issues in binary terms which reveal your biases, go for it.

    You come off as quite the simpleton yourself.

  14. GeorgeM says

    If you’re not a republican my bad
    However I do think you come off as an angry gay who thinks everything was going to be done in ten mins. Their are many angry gay dems.
    And no I know it’s not just repubs that criticizes the prez, I just think their worse then republicans when they happen to be democrats. Especially on these issuses. But to each his own.

  15. BobN says

    @bedwell ‘”My side…the GOP”??? You simpleton.’

    You might take a moment and reflect on the fact that your anti-Obama hysteria has caused more than one poster on here to assume you’re a rabid Republican…

  16. Rocco says

    Her name may be “unfortunate,” but she is lovely and this world is a much better place with her in it. I used to work with Amy and they are also wonderful parents. I’m so glad they got a victory here.

  17. feetxxxl says

    interesting to finally see the words about insensitivity of the majority from judiciary, that all along has been common knowledge among lbgt and their supporters for the last 10 years. i wonder if this will finally cause the understanding that being gay being a sin was a wrong 2000 year teaching that was never written any where in scripture(rather than the common thinking that scripture has all along been errant and represents flawed human understanding, rather than being god breathed and inerrant corrupted by flawed human interpretation).

  18. Robert in NYC says

    No president is perfect, certainly not Obama. But I’m sure as hell NOT going to support any republican eyeing the White House. At least the democrats no longer vote against us or veto states’ marriage equality bills passed in their legislatures. All of the Obama bashing isn’t going to make things better. The alternative is unthinkable come November when not just gay rights but women’s reproductive rights will be up for repeal with the majority of the republicans supporting it. Remember too, only 8 republicans supported repeal of DADT while almost all democrats did under Obama’s watch. Why has only one republican signed the Respect for Marriage act I wonder? What if President Obama suddenly evolves 360 degrees after re-election, nothing to lose after all? Will his bashers then persist? Ask yourselves exactly what will the GOP do for LGBT people if they take the White House? Name one thing please. You won’t hear one single thing mentioned during the GOP convention regarding LGBT equality either, as usual.

  19. jamal49 says

    Michael Bedwell, honey, I think you’re on the wrong blog spot. You need to mosey on over to some nice, safe, right-wing spot, you know, where you’ll feel more at home. OK?