A federal judge in California has found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal recognition of the legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples, to be unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken on Thursday ruled in favor of gay state workers who are barred from equal access to the long-term care plan offered by the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS).

California recognizes the unions of gay couples with domestic partnerships and the marriages of 18,000 couples who wed before voters approved Proposition 8, the state's gay marriage ban enacted in 2008.

Wilken found that the statutory preclusion of gay spouses and registered domestic partners violates the United States Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. She found that the DOMA exception was not “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”

Wilkens ordered CalPERS to end the practice of excluding the spouses and partners of gay state workers but put her decision on hold during an appeal, if one is sought.

The plaintiffs and class in the case, Dragovich v. CalPERS, were represented by the Legal Aid Society.

“I've been in a committed relationship with my partner for more than 30 years,” plaintiff Michael Dragovich said in a statement. “I am so pleased that our relationship will now be treated equally to the committed relationships of my heterosexual co-workers.”

Plaintiffs Patricia Fitzsimmons and Elizabeth Litteral, a couple in their 50s, married in 2008 and have been denied enrollment in the insurance plan. “We want to plan responsibly for our whole lives,” Fitzsimmons said. “We don't want to rely on our daughter for care – we want her to live her own life.”

(Full text of the opinion.)