The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan today ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, the Associated Press said, becoming the second federal appeals court to do so this year.
DOMA requires the federal government to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and as a result blocks federal spousal benefits — such as health and retirement benefits — from going to the legally-married same-sex spouses of federal employees. The case in today’s ruling — Windsor v. United States — is not related to federal employee benefits.
But other cases challenging DOMA have centered around federal benefits. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in May also declared DOMA unconstitutional when it said Dean Hara, the legally-married husband of late Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., had been improperly denied health coverage from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
And in February, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco handed lesbian federal employee Karen Golinski a major victory when he also declared DOMA unconstitutional, and ordered the Office of Personnel Management to extend FEHBP coverage to Golinski’s wife, Amy Cunninghis. OPM did so in May, but stressed that it was a legally-mandated one-person exemption that would apply only to Cunninghis and no other same-sex spouses. OPM Director John Berry, who is gay, has repeatedly said he supports extending health care coverage to gay feds’ spouses and partners, but said he is handcuffed by DOMA.
Despite the growing legal consensus against DOMA, it isn’t dead yet. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to start considering one of several cases challenging DOMA soon — perhaps this year, if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is correct.