Bloomberg News

Boehner-Led Group Defends Marriage Law in Benefits Lawsuit

October 16, 2011

(Updates with lawyer’s comment in seventh paragraph.)

Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The three Republican members of the five-person House of Representatives Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, including Speaker John Boehner, told a U.S. judge that a lesbian woman’s fundamental rights aren’t burdened by the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The measure, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, bars the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages, and allows states to decline to do so as well. President Barack Obama’s administration this year said it wouldn’t defend the measure in court.

The representatives, in an Oct. 14 filing with U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco, defended the law, known as DoMA, against a legal challenge filed last year by Karen Golinski, a federal court employee seeking to extend her health insurance benefits to her wife.

“There is nothing intrusive in the least about DoMA,” the congressmen said, opposing Golinski’s request for a ruling that the act is unconstitutional. “It is simply a definitional statute that defines, for federal law purposes, marriage and spouse.”

In June, New York became the sixth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. Such unions are also lawful in the District of Columbia. Florida, Texas, Missouri, Virginia and Utah are among the states that have constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage, according to Lambda Legal, a proponent of equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

2008 Wedding

Golinski wed Amy Cunninghis in 2008 during a period in which same-sex marriages were lawful in California before being barred by a voter referendum. That outcome is being challenged in court.

Rita Lin, an attorney for Golinski, disagreed with the congressmen’s view that her client doesn’t face an unconstitutional burden because of the marriage law.

“If she’d married a man instead of a woman, she’d be paid differently,” Lin said today in a phone interview. The out-of- pocket expenses the couple must pay to separately insure Cunninghis is tantamount to a tax, Lin said.

When the U.S. Justice Department said it wouldn’t defend the law’s definition of marriage, Boehner of Ohio, said the chamber would support the measure. Joining him in the Oct. 14 filing were U.S. Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.

California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who preceded Boehner as speaker, and Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic Whip, are also members of the Legal Advisory Group. They declined to support the filing, according to a footnote on the final page of the document.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 16.

The case is Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management, 10-cv-00257, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

--With assistance from Michael Hytha in San Francisco. Editors: Michael Hytha, Sylvia Wier

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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