Thursday, November 19, 2009

Two Court Victories For LGBT Couples


Los Angeles Times blog is reporting that on Wednesday a federal judge ordered the federal government to compensate a married gay couple who have been denied spousal benefits.

"U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt deemed the denial of healthcare and other benefits to the spouse of federal public defender Brad Levenson to be a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of due process and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is prohibited by California state law," says the Los Angeles Times.

Brad Levenson and Tony Spears were married July 12, 2008 during the time marriage equality was legal in California.

Back in February, Judge Reinhardt had ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars gay federal employees' spouses benefits, is unconstitutional.

In his ruling, Reinhardt wrote:
"The denial of federal benefits to same-sex spouses cannot be justified simply by a distaste for or disapproval of same-sex marriage or a desire to deprive same-sex spouses benefits available to other spouses in order to discourage exercising a legal right afforded them by the state."
Wednesday's order doesn't give Levenson and Spears spousal benefits, but it does order the government to give compensation. The couple had calculated how much more they would have to spend without the benefits, and it wound up being thousands of dollars.

"The judge's order is expected to resolve the injustice Reinhardt has cited in previous orders in Levenson's case. But it also recognizes the status quo of federal government rejection of gay marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act," says the Los Angeles Times. 'Several other challenges by those denied federal benefits, like filing joint tax returns, are making their way slowly through the federal courts."

New York

Back in April, New York's high court agreed to hear anti-LGBT Alliance Defense Fund lawsuit against the state, challenging its recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside its borders and granting benefits to these couples.

Today, however, the court rejected ADF's challenge 4-3 on the narrow basis of benefits, not on whether or not the legislature should legalize marriage equality. The court also noted that under the state's constitution, same-sex marriage isn't legal but it doesn't address recognizing legally performed same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

"The effect of the majority's rationale in affirming these orders will be to permit an unworkable pattern of conflicting executive and administrative directives ... (at the) individual discretion of each agency head," Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick warned in an otherwise concurring opinion.

"We ought to avoid the confusion that would arise from a same-sex couple considered legally married by one agency for one purpose, but not married by another agency for a different purpose," the judge wrote.

With Thursday's court decision, legally married same-sex couples will be entitled to public employee health insurance coverage and certain other benefits provided to heterosexual spouses.

Read the court's ruling.

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