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Federal Eye
Posted at 09:29 PM ET, 03/26/2012

Obama administration allows health coverage for same-sex spouse

Davidson

The Obama administration has directed a health insurance company to cover the same-sex spouse of a federal employee. Gay rights advocates say they believe this is the first time such coverage has been allowed.

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.”

The letter marks a complete turnaround for the administration, which previously said the wife of Karen Golinski, a federal court employee in California, could not be covered. Although President Obama has long called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits marriage to heterosexual couples, the administration initially defended the law in court.

Then last year, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. informed Congress the president had determined that a section of the act is unconstitutional and the department would no longer defend it. Yet the administration said it would continue to enforce the measure until it was repealed by Congress or the court found it to be unconstitutional.

Now a district court ruling issued last month allows OPM to no longer block employer sponsored insurance coverage for Golinski’s wife. Coverage does not extend to other same-sex spouses, however. OPM’s letter said its decision on Golinski “has no effect on enrollments requested by other same-sex spouses.”

Golinski said when she “sought to add Amy to my existing family health plan, I was seeking the same type of security that my married heterosexual colleagues enjoy. The day has now arrived, and we are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Although health insurance cannot protect any of us from illness or injury, it provides a powerful safety net.”


Amy Cunninghis, left, and Karen Golinski. Golinski won a court case against the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits feds in same-sex marriages from getting employer sponsored health benefits for their spouses. (Photo by Amos Mac )
The administration’s new position follows a February ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White, who ruled that the DOMA “unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex married couples.”

Golinski, a government lawyer, expressed her appreciation to White “for recognizing the unconstitutionality of DOMA and the resulting harm and inequality it has brought to gay and lesbian families.”

The letter told the Blue Cross Blue Shield to “implement an expeditious enrollment of Ms. Cunninghis.”

“We’re thrilled for Karen and Amy who have been waiting for years for this equal treatment,” said Tara Borelli, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, which represents Golinski.

Despite the victory for Golinski, the case is not over. Republicans in Congress have appealed the district court’s decision.

“We’re also committed to pressing this case forward to ensure that other same sex couples just like them can receive same treatment,” Borelli said.

OPM could not be reached for further comment.

federaldiary@washpost.com

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson. Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

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