Dems hit DOMA on behalf of a federal worker

Joe Davidson
Columnist July 12, 2012

Karen Golinski probably didn’t realize she has so many friends.

Among them are the more than 130 House Democrats who submitted a legal brief this week saying the government should allow same-sex spouses of federal workers to be covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Democrats filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in support of Golinski, a federal court employee in California. She won in U.S. District Court, which said the section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages is not constitutional.

That was an important ruling. It allowed coverage for Golinski’s wife. But it was a limited victory.

The Obama administration wants to kill DOMA, yet nonetheless has said that the Golinski decision applies only to her. It is being appealed by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG). Despite its name, in this case BLAG represents the House Republican leadership.


Karen Golinski, right, hugs her wife Amy Cunninghis as they pose for a photograph outside of a federal court building in 2010. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

“The brief makes it clear that the House is not united on DOMA’s validity, that the BLAG lawyers do not speak for the entire institution, and that there is no legitimate federal interest in denying married same-sex couples the legal security, rights and responsibilities that federal law provides to couples who are married under state law,” said a statement from the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) did not respond to a request for comment.

Lambda Legal, a legal organization that represents Golinski, said the Democrats’ brief was one of 13 filed on her behalf this week. Most Washington area Democrats signed onto it.

“What these briefs make clear is that DOMA is both discriminatory and burdensome, unjustly stigmatizing one segment of the population while at the same time increasing the cost of doing business,” said Shelbi Day, a Lambda staff attorney. “Clearly, it is time to put DOMA out of its — and our — misery.”

While BLAG’s appeal of the Golinski case is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which is where Golinski works, the administration has asked the Supreme Court to take the case before the appellate court rules.

The Justice Department said “authoritative resolution of the question” regarding DOMA is important for those “who are being denied the equal enjoyment of the benefits that federal law makes available to persons who are legally married under state law.”

List of grievances

The organization Federally Employed Women (FEW) has released a list of more than two dozen “anti-federal worker bills and consequences” that demonstrate the extent of legislative and other proposals aimed at federal employees.

The list covers pay, retirement, workforce size, health benefits and furloughs. Taken together, the measures indicate a concerted effort, primarily by Republicans, to cut or limit the compensation of the federal workforce.

The list includes not just proposals, but also measures that are now law, such as the two-year freeze on basic federal pay rates, which was advanced by President Obama. That freeze is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, but the House has approved a bill that would extend it through 2015.

The current freeze would cost employees $60 billion over 10 years. A proposed extension, for a total of five years, would result in an “ultimate hit of $150 billion to federal workers,” the FEW report said.

While most of the items on the list are Republican proposals, it includes those by the administration, including a plan to increase federal employee retirement contributions by 1.2 percent of their salaries over three years.

“This is essentially a mandatory payroll tax on middle-class federal workers,” FEW said.

Several bills would cut the federal workforce or slow its growth.

“The cuts to federal workers are cuts to America’s defense — two in three federal employees work for the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Justice,” FEW said.

FEW says a proposal advanced by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010 to base federal pensions on the top five earning years instead of the top three “takes back benefits federal workers have earned.”

Janet Kopenhaver, FEW’s Washington representative, said “all these negative bills translate into tax increases for a large group of middle-class workers, but also will result in a disruption of services for all Americans.”

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

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