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Federal judge orders compensation for Gay couple in DOMA case
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Federal judge orders compensation for Gay couple in DOMA case

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

US 9th Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhart ruled in favor of a California couple denied spousal benefits because they are Gay.

Citing the due process clause in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation in California state law, Reinhart ordered back pay and future compensation for the couple, which could amount to thousands of dollars annually.

Brad Levenson married his long-time partner Tony Sears in Los Angeles on July 12, 2008. Same-sex marriages were legal in California at the time, before Prop 8 reversed a decision of the California Supreme Court and banned them.

A subsequent California Supreme Court decision upheld Prop 8, but also upheld the legality of same-sex marriages performed during the five-month window between its original ruling permitting them and the passage of Prop 8.

Levenson, an employee in the Federal Public Defender's Office, applied for spousal benefits for his legal spouse, Sears.

Judge Reinhart - who is the Circuit Court judge responsible for resolving employee disputes in the Federal Public Defender's Office - ordered in February this year that the US Courts Administrative Office should enroll Sears in the benefits program.

The federal Office of Personnel Management then intervened to prevent the enrollment, on the grounds that DOMA prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Levenson appealed, seeking either an independently contracted benefits package for his spouse or payment of the equivalent value of the coverage denied.

Judge Reinhardt ordered equivalent payment, based on a "back pay" provision in the law covering federal defense lawyers' employment.

"Considering that the federal government won't give Tony the equal benefits package of other spouses, we are very pleased with this decision," said Levenson. "Is it equal treatment? No. Is it a good remedy? Yes. And we are appreciative of the judge's order."

Levenson said he and Sears have been keeping track of the costs of insuring Sears independently and estimate the back pay and future compensation will amount to thousands of dollars each year.

There are several challenges to DOMA based on the 14th Amendment pending, perhaps the best known being Gill v. OPM, a Massachusetts case filed by GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders).

Reinhart was appointed to the 9th Circuit Court by Pres. Jimmy Carter in 1980. He is known as one of the most liberal judges in the federal court system, and - according to the Boston University Law Review - one of the most often reversed.

Reinhart wrote the 9th Circuit's decision in State of Washington v. Glucksburg (1997), holding that the ban on physician-assisted suicide in Washington's Natural Death Act of 1979 was in violation of the 14th Amendment's due process clause. His ruling in that case was unanimously reversed by the US Supreme Court.

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