Federal Judicial Council Orders Married Gay Couple Reimbursed For Denial Of Marriage Benefits

Citing multiple court decisions declaring the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the Judicial Council of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a lower federal court to reimburse a court employee’s husband for costs arising from the judiciary’s failure to provide the same-sex couple with equal benefits:

Christopher Nathan, 39, of San Francisco, a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Maria Elena James, sought coverage for his spouse, Thomas Alexander, 40. The couple wed in 2008, in a ceremony performed by James, before Proposition 8 prohibited same-sex marriages in California.

When Nathan tried to enroll Alexander in the government’s insurance plan, he was turned down by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts because the 1996 law bars federal recognition of same-sex unions.

In April, Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware said the denial violated the federal court’s rules against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, and ordered the court to reimburse Nathan for the costs of buying private insurance.

The Judicial Council, the final authority in the administrative review process, went a step further in this week’s order and said DOMA has been held unconstitutional by a San Francisco federal judge in another employee’s case. The three-judge panel ordered the court to determine how much it owes Nathan and then pay him within 10 days.

Although this is an administrative decision — and therefore does not have the precedential force that an actual judicial decision striking down DOMA would have — it is still an important sign that DOMA has fallen out of favor among federal judges. The Judicial Council of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is made up of 11 sitting federal judges, including 6 appellate judges.