The Obama administration on Monday petitioned [text, PDF] the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] for an expedited en banc review of two test cases on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. DOMA excludes otherwise valid state same-sex marriages from recognition under federal law. In its request for review, the Obama administration raised the question of "whether classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review or instead demand heightened scrutiny under well-established equal protection principles." The request for expedited review comes after the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional, after Karen Golinski filed suit [JURIST reports] against the US Office of Personnel Management for refusing extend health insurance benefits to her same-sex spouse. The federal government is asking for an 11-judge panel rather than the usual three-judge panel to address this issue, as a full bench has the authority to reconsider precedents.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] voted to repeal DOMA [JURIST report] in November, marking the first time a Congressional group has voted to repeal the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In a similar case in October, a disabled Navy veteran filed a notice of appeal [JURIST report] with the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims [official website] for denying her partner a share of her disability benefits under DOMA. The Department of Veterans Affairs [official website] allegedly told the veteran she could not receive benefits because her spouse was a woman. In March 2011, congressional Democrats introduced the Respect for Marriage Act [text], which was intended to repeal DOMA [JURIST report], but it has not yet passed. Last year, US President Barack Obama announced that he would continue to fight for the repeal [JURIST report] of DOMA. Also last year, the US Department of Justice announced that it would no longer defend the constitutionality [JURIST report] of Section 3 of DOMA in court cases challenging the provision.