Court dings feds for denying same-sex benefits

San Francisco’s role in equal rights for same-sex couples was highlighted again this week when a judge ruled that the denial of insurance benefits for a same-sex spouse was unconstitutional.

Another anti-gay marriage law, though — the federal Defense of Marriage Act — is still preventing the processing of benefits for these couples. An appeals court in Boston is hearing arguments over that law this week.

Under DOMA, same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.

The courts are still wrestling with the effects of Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative to overturn legal same-sex marriage in California. This decision leaves it up to the court to decide if DOMA is constitutional.

This case started when Christopher Nathan, a a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Maria Elena James, tried to enroll his husband, Thomas Alexander, in the federal government’s health insurance plan.

Alexander was denied due to the 1996 law, even though the two married in 2008 when same-sex marriage was legal.

Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware said Tuesday that the denial of benefits violated the court’s guarantee of a discrimination-free workplace. He ordered the chief clerk of the San Francisco federal court to reimburse Nathan for past and future costs of insurance for his husband.

This act puts court administrators in a conundrum. They must now decide if they should comply with court orders or the presiding law (DOMA).

San Francisco federal court chief clerk Richard Wieking told the Chron more guidance is needed from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.