A federal judge has ordered the government to compensate a couple who were denied employee partner health benefits because they are gay.
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. Levenson married his longtime partner, Tony Sears, on July 12, 2008, during the five-month period when same-sex marriage was legal in California. A ballot measure, Proposition 8, was passed a year ago defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Reinhardt, who is the federal judge responsible for resolving employee disputes in the Federal Public Defenders office within the 9th Circuit, had earlier ordered the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to process Levenson’s application for spousal benefits for Sears. The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management stepped in to derail the enrollment, however, citing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriage for the purpose of federal benefits or programs.
Levenson appealed, seeking either an independently contracted benefits package for his spouse or payment of the equivalent value of the coverage denied. Reinhardt ordered the latter, 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.”
It’s unclear what, if any, precedent this ruling may set.