James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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November 20, 2009

As I read those words at the end of the title of a newly issued case from a federal appeals court in California, my high school Latin came flooding back to me and I got teary-eyed.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines the term “Et uxor” as “And his wife.” Except in this circumstance, the court used it (appropriately) to mean “And her wife.” Times have changed, even for the federal judiciary.

The case is about Karen Golinski, who works as a staff attorney for the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which covers appeals from federal courts in nine western states. She and her long-time partner, Amy, married in California in 2008. Once married, Karen asked her employer to add her wife to the health care plan. When the federal court system told her Amy wasn’t eligible because their marriage wasn’t recognized by the federal government, she filed a complaint with the court system, with help from Lambda Legal and the law firm Morrison & Foerster. They pointed out that the refusal to recognize Karen and Amy’s valid California marriage violated the court’s internal policy of not discriminating based on sex or sexual orientation.

This week, Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit, issued a new opinion in this dispute, stating once again that Karen is entitled to receive health care coverage for her wife, just like any other lawfully married employee of the federal courts. But this time, he added “Et Uxor” to the caption of the case, so that it reads “IN THE MATTER OF KAREN GOLINSKI, ET UXOR”, reflecting in yet another way the federal court’s recognition of the validity of Karen and Amy’s union. And throughout the decision, the Chief Judge refers to Amy as Karen’s wife.

The merits of the decision are important — guaranteeing employees of the federal court system equal pay for equal work — but the court’s linguistic respect for their relationship is also a milestone.

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