Another Positive Decision from the Federal Court in San Francisco

A federal judge based in San Francisco (Claudia Wilkin) has issued a very positive decision in the case of Dragovich v. U.S. (Case No. 10-01564). While the issue raised by the case is a narrow one, the reasoning by the Court – in sync with several other recent federal court decisions on recognition of same-sex relationships – makes it an important ruling.

The case involves a legal discrepancy between the long-term care insurance plan offered by CALPERS to state employees, and the the federal rules regarding insurance plans for employees. The CALPERS plans extend benefits to same-sex married couples and registered domestic partners, as equivalent to heterosexual spouses. However, the federal rule disallows any plans which give benefits to anyone other than a federally recognized spouse — and same-sex couples are not recognized as legal spouses under the federal DOMA rule. As a result of this discrepancy, gay and lesbian employees are taxed for the insurance benefits they receive, whereas straight employees receive these benefits tax free.

The Court ruled that the provisions of DOMA are unconstitutional, and therefore the federal government must recognize same-sex spouses (and registered domestic partners) as equal to straight spouses. As a result, the tax treatment of the gay employees must be no different than that of straight employees.

As with the other DOMA related cases, the federal government is no longer defending the law, so Congress was allowed to hire its own lawyer to defend the current law. Most likely the decision will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit – which is also hearing the case involving California’s Proposition 8.

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