The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in an opinion dated May 24, 2012, holds that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines “marriage,” is unconstitutional to the extent that it limits same-sex couples from participation in the long-term care insurance program maintained by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Article 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 U.S.C. § 7, defines “marriage” to mean “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.” Section 7702B(f)(2)(C) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC) operates to deny the tax benefits of a state-maintained long-term care plan if it offers benefits to individuals other than those specifically identified in that section. A “spouse” of an employee is permitted to receive benefits under such plan, but a “registered domestic partner” of the employee is not permitted to receive such benefits. Section 3 of DOMA would operate to exclude same-sex spouses from the definition of “spouse” for this purpose.
In Michael Dragovich et. al. v. United States, the plaintiffs contended that Section 3 of DOMA and IRC § 7702B(f) violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and substantive due process by barring same-sex legal spouses and registered domestic partners of California public employees from enrollment in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) long-term care plan, even though opposite-sex legal spouses are permitted to enroll. The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on their claims.
The Obama administration has stated that it will not defend the validity of Section 3 of DOMA against equal protection challenges by same-sex spouses. Because this case involved such a challenge, the court granted the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives (BLAG) leave to intervene to defend the law. BLAG intervened and opposed the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and cross-moved for summary judgment that the provision is constitutional.
The court analyzed the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA to same-sex legal spouses (under California law) and IRC § 7702B(f) to registered domestic partners separately, but reached the same conclusion as to both. It found that both provisions are constitutionally invalid to the extent that they exclude plaintiff same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners from enrollment in the CalPERS long-term care plan. It permanently enjoined CalPERS from denying plaintiff class members enrollment in the CalPERS long-term care plan on the basis of Section 3 of DOMA or IRC § 7702B(f)’s exclusion of same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners, respectively. It also enjoined the United States from disqualifying the CalPERS long-term care plan under IRC § 7702B(f) based on CalPERS compliance with the terms of the injunction.
The court does not hold Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional for all purposes. The court’s reasoning for holding Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional as it applies to CalPERS long-term care plan could make the decision, if sustained on appeal, far reaching.