Joe Davidson of the Washington Post reported late Monday that the Obama administration has done something gay-rights advocates believe is unprecedented: order coverage for the same-sex spouse of a federal employee:
A March 9 letter to Blue Cross Blue Shield, from Shirley Patterson, assistant director of federal employee insurance operations for the Office of Personnel Management, said that “OPM hereby withdraws any outstanding directive regarding the enrollment of Ms. Golinski’s wife, Amy C. Cunninghis, in her family health benefits plan.”
OPM previously said the wife of Karen Golinski, a federal court employee in California, could not be covered.
Remember when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was ruled to be unconstitutional back in February by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White, a George W. Bush nominee? And when, shortly thereafter, the Department of Justice backed benefits for gay couples in the military and refused to uphold the section of DOMA that defines “marriage” and “spouse” as only applicable to relationships of involving opposite-sex relationships? The Washington Post report notes that the connection between those two events and what happened Monday is unavoidable. (Metro Weekly’s Chris Geidner reports today on the next stage of the fight, which begins next week.)
It is also, in its own way, a statement by the Obama administration for inherent marriage rights, and against those who would have rights put up to a popular vote. This isn’t merely a same-sex partnership – the word “spouse” matters. And these aren’t special rights that Karen Golinski and her wife are asking for – it’s what most opposite-sex couples with health benefits have, to this point, merely expected.
President Obama recently invoked Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “speak softly, and carry a big stick” saying when speaking about his foreign policy, Whether or not the President’s personal position on same-sex marriage has “evolved” or not, his administration is letting its actions speak loudly in the area of gay rights.
Update: Geidner added this morning that this decision signals that the DOJ wants to get DOMA before a federal court, and right quick:
If DOJ lawyers have their way, an 11-judge en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will be considering the case of Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management well before the presidential election this November…
On Monday, DOJ filed two motions in the appeal before the Ninth Circuit, both of which were agreed to by Golinski. The first asks the court to expedite the appeal and the other seeks to skip over the first stage of appellate review, in which a three-judge panel considers the case, in favor of moving directly to en banc consideration by an 11-judge panel of the court.