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Calif. Judge Declares Federal 'Defense of Marriage Act' Unconstitutional

Common Dreams staff

A gay marriage supporter at last year's San Francisco pride parade. (Photograph: Susana Bates/Reuters)

A federal judge in California this week, ruling in favor of a lawsuit brought by state workers who sued the public-employee pension system for its refusal to cover same-sex couples, declared the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA) to be unconstitutional and an assault on the equal protections clause.

US District Judge Claudia Wilken said there was no evidence that the federally mandated DOMA provision was "rationally related to a legitimate government interest."

Wilken went on to say that gays and lesbians are constitutionally protected from "burdensome legislation that is the product of sheer antigay animus and devoid of any legitimate governmental purpose."

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Silicon Valley Mercury News: Judge Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act Provision in CalPERS Case

Wilken issued her ruling in a lawsuit filed against the California Public Employees' Retirement System, known as CalPERS, by same-sex couples. The system has refused to let gay spouses enroll in its federally approved insurance program on the ground that they were excluded by DOMA.

Wilken said the DOMA ban violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment. She wrote that there was no proof the DOMA provision was "rationally related to a legitimate government interest."

Thursday's decision makes Wilken the second trial judge in the U.S. District Court for Northern California to strike down that section of the 1996 law.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco issued a similar ruling in February in a lawsuit filed by Karen Golinski, a federal appeals court staff attorney who wants to enroll her wife in the court's employee health plan.

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The San Francisco Chronicle: 2nd Federal judge overturns law

Wilken's ruling is noteworthy because more than 2,600 state employees have sought long-term insurance for their domestic partners, in addition to 328 employees seeking the same coverage for their same-sex spouses, said attorney Elizabeth Kristen of the Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center in San Francisco.

"It's a huge validation of civil rights for gay and lesbian Californians," she said.

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