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Federal Judge: DOMA Restrictions Unconstitutional for California State Employees

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According to a news release from Legal Aid Society of San Francisco-Employment Law Center, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled in favor of gay and lesbian state workers who, together with their registered domestic partners, are excluded from equal access to California’s Long-Term Care Program.

On May 24, Judge Claudia Wilken issued the ruling in Dragovich v. CalPERS, a class action lawsuit challenging federal and state laws including the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which regulate state-sponsored long-term care plans. These laws permit employees and family members to join such plans, including opposite-sex spouses, but exclude the spouses and registered domestic partners of gay and lesbian workers.

Elizabeth Kristen of Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center said Judge Wilken’s ruling ensures that both same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners will be treated fairly under the CalPERS long-term care insurance program. “Lesbian and gay couples are entitled to fair and equal treatment from the federal government,” Kristen added.

Judge Wilken found that the statutory preclusion of gay and lesbian spouses and partners violated the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

Plaintiff Michael Dragovich, a UCSF nurse specializing in liver transplants who joined the CalPERS plan as a state employee in 1997, has been in a committed relationship with his partner for more than 30 years. “I am so pleased that our relationship will now be treated equally to the committed relationships of my heterosexual co-workers,” he said, following the ruling.

In finding that the exclusion violated the equal protection protections of the Constitution, the court noted specific, official actions taken by the federal government in opposition to the recognition of gay and lesbian couples in establishing discriminatory intent, including the defunding of the District of Columbia’s domestic partnership registry and the enactment of the DOMA.

Comments by congressional leaders who described domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples as “an attack on the family” and “abhorrent” were noted in the opinion. —Nancy Ford

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