Married Gay Couples Can Sue for CA State Benefit Rights

January 24, 2011 ( – A federal judge has ruled that three married same-sex couples can proceed with a lawsuit they filed against the U.S. Treasury Department and the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS).

One member of each couple works for the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, and the couples are fighting for the equal right to buy long-term care insurance from the state’s pension system. According to the Bay City News Service, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said that two federal laws used to deny the same-sex spouses the right to buy long-term care insurance “do not bear a rational relationship to a legitimate government interest.”  

The two laws are the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and a section of the Internal Revenue Code that prohibits same-sex spouses from receiving favorable tax treatment for insurance plans. CalPERS has refused to make its long-term care insurance plan available to the employees’ spouses on the ground that the two laws would prevent the spouses from receiving favorable tax treatment, the news report said.   

Future long-term care benefits are exempt from taxation, and in some cases the insurance premiums are tax-deductible.   

Wilken did not explicitly strike down the DOMA law, but said it could not be used as a basis for dismissing the lawsuit. She turned down a motion by the U.S. Justice Department for dismissal and said the case can go to trial.   

A spokesperson for CalPERS was not available for comment to the news service.