A federal judge in California has ruled that state employees may sue the federal government for excluding their partners from a long-term health care program.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland denied an Obama administration request to dismiss the suit Tuesday and signaled that she is likely to overturn provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. But Wilken said the 1996 law actually changed the status quo by “robbing states of the power to allow same-sex civil marriages that will be recognized under federal law.” She also rejected arguments that the law’s sponsors put forth in 1996, that the legislation was necessary to promote procreation and preserve heterosexual marriage. The couples sued in April over the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s refusal to enroll the spouses in a federally approved long-term care plan. State employees can buy coverage at below-market rates, use pretax dollars to pay premiums, and deduct future benefits from their taxes. The California agency has refused to sign up same-sex spouses because the Defense of Marriage Act denies federal tax benefits to any state that covers them.