Oakland City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA) is irrational and should have no effect on the ability of government employees in California to participate in state public employee long-term care insurance (LTCI) benefits programs, according to a federal judge in Oakland, Calif.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, gave that assessment in an order awarding summary judgment in favor of the state government employees and others who brought the suit, Dragovich et al. vs. the U.S. Treasury Department et al. 

The public employees won the judgment against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); the U.S. Treasury Department, which is the parent of the IRS; the board of administration of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS); and the officials in charge of those entities.

The plaintiffs in the case include all present and future CALPERS members who are in same-sex marriages and registered domestic partnerships, together with their spouses and partners, who want to have the same kind of access to the CALPERS LTCI program that same-sex spouses and same-sex partners get.

Section 3 of DOMA of 1996 defines the terms “spouse” and “marriage.”

Another law, Section 7702B(f) of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), forbids a state-sponsored benefit plan from qualifying for the usual state benefit plan tax breaks if it provides spousal benefits for the same-sex spouses of public employees.

Because federal officials refused to defend the constitutionality of DOMA Section 3 and HIPAA Section 7702B(f), Wilken let the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG) defend the law.

BLAG lawyers objected, for example, to the court decision to let the class of plaintiffs include domestic partners as well as spouses.

Wilken has dismissed the BLAG representatives’ arguments in favor of the pro-DOMA Section 3 position.

“There is no reasonable relationship between Section 3 of the DOMA and the policy goal of encouraging heterosexual couples to procreate while married or enter into marriage if they accidentally conceive a child,” Wilken writes in a discussion of her order. “Because there is no rational relationship to this policy goal, the court need not resolve whether fostering child-rearing by heterosexual, rather than same-sex couples, serves a legitimate governmental interest….  In sum, the legislative record contains evidence of anti-gay  animus and the BLAG has failed to establish that Section 3 of the DOMA is rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”

Because DOMA Section 3 has no rational relationship with a legitimate government interest, the plaintiff same-sex spouses are entitled to summary judgment and should get access to the CALPERS LTCI plan, the judge says.

The judge has permanently enjoined CALPERS and those acting at its direction or on its behalf from keeping the plaintiffs out of the CALPERS LTCI plan.

Wilken noted that she would grant a stay forbidding the federal government from taking action against CALPERS if CALPERS filed a timely appeal.

At press time, CALPERS had not yet filed an appeal. 

Anne Stausboll, the chief executive of CALPERS, put out a statement welcoming the ruling.

“We have been strongly advocating for the ability to administer our program for same-sex spouses and domestic partners and we welcome the ability to extend important benefits to all our members and their families,” Stausboll says in the statement.

Representatives for BLAG were not immediately available to comment on the ruling.