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Judicial Council Defies DOMA, Orders Insurance Reimbursement

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This week, the Supreme Court will consider whether it will hear a slew of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) challenges, along with a constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8. We’re guessing that the Court will grant at least one of the cases.

But before the Court can have its say on deciding DOMA’s fate, the Ninth Circuit has once again stepped into the DOMA spotlight. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council ordered a federal court in San Francisco to pay an employee’s costs for insurance coverage for his husband, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The employee, Christopher Nathan, is a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Maria Elena James. Nathan wed his spouse, Thomas Alexander, in a 2008 ceremony officiated by Judge James before Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriages in California. Nathan tried to enroll Alexander in the government's insurance plan, but his application was rejected by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts because DOMA Section 3 bars federal recognition of same-sex unions.

In April, Chief District Judge James Ware said the denial violated the federal court's discrimination policy, and ordered the court to reimburse Nathan for the costs of purchasing private insurance. Judge Ware's ruling came only two months after Judge Jeffrey White ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional as applied to Ninth Circuit employee Karen Golinski because it "treats gay men and lesbians differently on the basis of their sexual orientation" without any legal basis.

Friday, the Judicial Council ordered the court to determine how much it owes Nathan and then pay him within 10 days, citing Judge White's Golinski ruling.

Nathan told the Chronicle that he will sue for damages if the court refuses to pay. His claims could be placed on hold, however, if the Supreme Court grants certiorari in one of the DOMA appeals.

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