With the Defense of Marriage Act expected to come under review this week by the Supreme Court, a member of one of the potential plaintiffs told the Associated Press she recognized the significance of the moment.
“To have the case wind all the way up to the Supreme Court, it’s pretty monumental,” said Karen Golinski, who, along with her partner Amy Cunninghis, is challenging the law, which disqualifies federal employees in same sex marriage from receiving benefits like health care, Social Security survivor benefits, and the ability to file joint tax returns. “I think it’s an honor to be with these other plaintiffs.”
Golinski, an attorney with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, married Cunninghis in August 2008, during the brief period when same-sex couples in California had that right. She said she quickly filed to add Cunninghis to her health plan, but later found out her employer refused to process her paperwork because of the act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
The court’s dispute resolution officer, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, ruled in Golinski’s favor after she filed an employee grievance, but federal officials ordered her insurance not be processed, prompting her to file a formal lawsuit in January 2010.
“We had lots of discussions about, ‘How far are we going to take this?’” Cunninghis said. “It did mushroom a bit, and we’d joke together about, ‘We’re not gonna make a federal case out of this,’ and that was kind of our joke, and the stakes got high fairly quickly.”
In February, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the government to approve the couple’s bid for spousal health benefits, saying DOMA was motivated by anti-gay sentiment.
While the U.S. Justice Department has stopped defending DOMA, per orders by Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, a group of 10 U.S. Senators who voted for it have filed a brief with the high court urging it to overturn the district court’s ruling.
“Regardless of which case the Supreme Court chooses, it matters, of course, to individual plaintiffs, but we’re all challenging the exact same statute,” Golinski said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s my case or Gil or Peterson or Windsor, the Supreme Court will be looking at that statute, and hopefully, by June, making a favorable determination for all of us and for the whole country.”
Watch Golinski and Cunninghis discuss the case with the AP, in video posted Monday, below.