A federal judge in San Francisco has ordered that a gay court employee be repaid after administrators refused to allow his husband to join his his health insurance plan.
In a ruling issued this week, U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware said, “The denial of this compensation to [complainant Christopher Nathan] because he is in a same-sex marriage clearly constitutes discrimination, both on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.”
Nathan, 38, a law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, filed a complaint after court administrators, citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, denied his request to enroll his husband in his coverage.
Nathan, a member of the nonprofit Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who goes by the name Sister Risque, and Thomas Alexander, 39, married in San Francisco in 2008, during the time such unions could be legally performed in California. The state’s voters passed the Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban in November 2008.
The Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages.
Nathan, who’s worked for the court since 2001, requested that Chief Judge James Ware hold DOMA unconstitutional, reverse the benefits denial, award back pay, and give him “front pay” until the federal government provides health benefits to same-sex partners. He also requested the creation of a “health care reimbursement program for similarly situated employees,” but eventually dropped that request, according to court documents.
Ware conducted a hearing March 15 with Nathan, the clerk of the court, and the chief deputy of administration.
In his order issued Tuesday, April 3, Ware said he wasn’t authorized to declare DOMA unconstitutional, since the hearing involved the state’s Employee Dispute Resolution Plan. He also said he wasn’t allowed to reverse the benefits denial.
However, he granted Nathan an award consisting of back pay for the time in which he was forced to buy health insurance coverage for Alexander. He also ordered that Nathan receive front pay to cover the period in which Nathan remains married and court administrators refuse to provide the coverage.
How much money Nathan should get is to be discussed at another hearing Friday, April 13.
In his order, Ware cited other recent court decisions recognizing the rights of same-sex couples including Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In that case, another federal judge in San Francisco ruled in February that DOMA is unconstitutional.
In an email today (Thursday, April 5) about his case, Nathan said, “My goal in initiating this process was to create a path for other gay and lesbian employees in the federal court system to obtain health benefits for their spouses. I think Chief Judge Ware’s order will go a long way to helping our cause, and I’m proud to work in the same district as him.”