Judge rules company must offer insurance to gay couples

May 26 2012 - 7:42am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a landmark case involving CalPERS and gay rights, a federal judge in Oakland ruled that the big pension fund must offer its long-term care insurance coverage to same-sex spouses and partners.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken on Thursday struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Some 160,000 state workers have purchased long-term care insurance through the California Public Employees' Retirement System. The coverage pays for stays in nursing homes and assisted-living centers.

CalPERS has refused to make the coverage available to same-sex spouses or domestic partners. While the pension fund extends most benefits to same-sex couples, it says the 1996 federal law left it little choice but to deny them the long-term care insurance.

The insurance benefits are tax-exempt under federal law, and CalPERS said extending the coverage to gay couples would jeopardize the program's tax-free status.

A group of San Francisco Bay area state workers, along with their spouses and partners, sued CalPERS and the federal government in early 2010. The Obama administration has declined to defend the 1996 law, so a Republican-led group of congressmen known as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group intervened to oppose the lawsuit.

Wilken, in a 41-page ruling, said the ban on long-term care insurance "appears to be motivated by anti-gay animus." The provision in the federal law "violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantee," she added.

Her ruling wasn't a surprise. In a preliminary ruling in January, the judge indicated she believed the provision in the 1996 law was unconstitutional.

A similar ruling, in a separate case, was issued in February by a federal judge in San Francisco. That case is being appealed by the Republican congressional group.

CalPERS applauded the ruling.

"We have been strongly advocating for the ability to administer our program for same-sex spouses and domestic partners," said Chief Executive Anne Stausboll in a prepared statement.

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(c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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