Thursday, February 23, 2012

DOMA Held Unconstitutional By Federal District Court

A California federal district court has held that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.  In Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management, (ND CA, Feb. 22, 2012), the court held that the equal protection rights of a female staff attorney employed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were infringed when the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts refused to process her application to add her same-sex spouse to her family coverage health insurance plan. The court concluded that heightened scrutiny should apply when reviewing statutory classifications based on sexual orientation. It added, however, that even under rational basis review, the statute fails.

In applying heightened scrutiny, the court rejected four justifications identified by Congress in enacting DOMA: (1) encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing; (2) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional, heterosexual marriage; (3) defending traditional notions of morality; and (4) preserving scarce government resources. In applying rational basis review, the court also examined three other justifications that Congress might have had:  (1) preserving the status quo in the federal definition of marriage while waiting for the states to tinker with the traditional definition of marriage; (2) an interest in remaining cautious in an area of so much social divisiveness; and (3) avoiding the inconsistency of eligibility for federal benefits turning on the vagaries of state law. The San Jose Mercury News reports on the decision. [Thanks to Volokh Conspiracy for the lead.]