SAN FRANCISCO -- Like a lot of newlyweds, Karen Golinski was eager to enjoy the financial fruits of marriage. Within weeks of her wedding, she applied to add her spouse to her employer-sponsored health care plan, a move that would save the couple thousands of dollars a year.
Her ordinarily routine request still is being debated more than four years later, and by the likes of former attorneys general, a slew of senators, the Obama administration and possibly this week, the U.S. Supreme Court.
Because Golinski is married to another woman and works for the U.S. government, her claim for benefits has morphed into a multilayered legal challenge to a 1996 law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing unions like hers.
The high court has scheduled a closed-door conference for Friday to review Golinski's case and four others that also seek to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act overwhelmingly approved by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton.
The purpose of the meeting is to decide which, if any, to put on the court's schedule for arguments next year.
The outcome carries economic and social consequences for gay, lesbian and bisexual couples, who now are unable to access Social Security survivor benefits, file joint income taxes, inherit a deceased spouse's pension or obtain family health insurance.
The other plaintiffs in the cases pending before the court include the state of Massachusetts, 13 couples and five widows and widowers.
"It's pretty monumental and it's an honor," said Golinski, a staff lawyer for the federal appeals court based in San Francisco who married her partner of 23 years, Amy Cunninghis, during the brief 2008 window when same-sex marriages were legal in California.
The federal trial courts that heard the cases all ruled the act violates the civil rights of legally married gays and lesbians. Two appellate courts agreed, making it highly likely the high court will agree to hear at least one of the appeals, Lambda Legal executive director Jon Davidson said.
"I don't think we've ever had an occasion where the Supreme Court has had so many gay rights cases knocking at its door," said Davidson, whose gay legal advocacy group represents Golinski. "That in and of itself shows how far we've come."
The Supreme Court also is scheduled to discuss Friday whether it should take two more long-simmering cases dealing with relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
The last time the court confronted a gay rights case was in 2010, when the justices voted 5-4 to let stand lower court rulings holding that a California law school could deny recognition to a Christian student group that does not allow gay members.
Golinski so far is the only gay American who has been allowed to begin receiving federal benefits while the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect, a development that could be reversed if the Supreme Court upholds the act.