Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management

Brief Filed: 7/12
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Year of Decision: 2013

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 164KB)


At challenge is the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the section that defines the term "marriage" for all federal purposes as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and thus requires the federal government to disregard marriages of same-sex couples

Index Topic

Marriage Equality


This lawsuit is a challenge to the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the section that defines the terms "marriage" as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife," and "spouse" as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." Section 3 prevents the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples who are legally married in their own states and restricts the federal government from granting such couples any federal benefits it provides to opposite-sex married couples.

In this case, Karen Golinski was denied spousal health benefits by her employer, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. She married her partner of 20 years in 2008 when such marriages were legal in California and attempted to obtain health insurance for her partner under the federal government’s health benefit plans. She was refused with DOMA being cited as the basis. In January 2009, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ruled in an administrative action that it violates the Ninth Circuit's employment policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation to deny the legally married Golinski the same benefits for her wife as heterosexual court employees receive for their lawful spouses. The federal Office of Personal Management (OPM) — an agency of the executive branch — responded that the law governing federal employees' health insurance and DOMA prevent coverage for the spouses of lesbian and gay federal employees, and instructed Golinski's insurer not to enroll her wife. Lambda Legal sued the federal government to compel it to stop interfering with the orders of the court's chief judge so that Golinski can be provided equal benefits for her wife, and subsequently raised a direct challenge to DOMA in federal court.

In February 2011, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder concluded that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and inappropriate to defend. Thereafter, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) intervened on behalf of the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives to defend DOMA. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment in July 2011, and on Feb. 22, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White issued a ruling declaring DOMA unconstitutional. BLAG appealed the district court decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

APA's Position

APA’s brief, in support of Golinski, is joined by the California Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychoanalytic Association. The brief is similar to the brief APA previously filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the First Circuit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. The brief applies social science research to rebut some of the justifications offered for the prohibition in section 3 of DOMA of any federal recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples. Those justifications, involving procreation, the welfare of children and the like, are closely similar to those offered in cases defending states’ refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry. The amicus brief provides extensive psychological research on key points, including how homosexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality, is generally not chosen and is highly resistant to change. Also provided is current scientific research on the nature of same-sex relationships, the role of child-rearing and the stigma resulting from denying the label “marriage” to same-sex unions. For example, the brief cited psychological research showing that gay and lesbian parents are not any less fit or capable than heterosexual parents, and that their children are not less adjusted. The brief also addresses how denying federal recognition to legally married same-sex couples stigmatizes them.


In light of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013) (holding that § 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional), the parties stipulated to dismissal. The panel therefore dismissed these appeals.