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posted Friday, June 11, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 24
Partners of LGBT federal workers get new benefits, still not equal
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Partners of LGBT federal workers get new benefits, still not equal

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A new directive issued by President Obama on June 2 expands the benefits same-sex partners of federal workers can obtain, but still stops short of full equality with married spouses of straight workers.

Obama directed government agencies to offer a number of new benefits to the families of LGBT federal employees, including family assistance services, hardship transfers, and relocation expenses.

The president also ordered federal agencies extending new benefits to married spouses of employees to make the same benefits available on equal terms to same-sex domestic partners "to the extent permitted by law."

Obama's latest directive builds on a memo he signed in June 2009. That memo enabled same-sex partners to get long-term care insurance, expanded sick leave, and medical evacuation rights.

The Office of Personnel Management said that those benefits would go into effect in July this year.

Last year's presidential memo also directed federal agencies to identify other benefits that could be offered to same-sex partners.

A review by the Office of Personnel Management and the Justice Department determined that at least some agencies could permit credit union and gym memberships, and access to counseling services, adoption counseling, and agency events or outings.

Some intelligence and financial regulatory agencies would be able to provide reimbursements for health-insurance premiums, dental and vision insurance, business travel accident insurance, physical exams, and homeowners' insurance, according to the OPM review.

The reservation "to the extent permitted by law," inserted in the president's latest directive, refers to restrictions contained in the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships.

In a statement issued by Pres. Obama on June 2, he reaffirmed his support for legislation to equalize benefits for partners of LGBT federal employees.

"While this memorandum is an important step on the path to equality," the president said, "my administration continues to be prevented by existing Federal law from providing same-sex domestic partners with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. That is why, today, I renew my call for swift passage of an important piece of legislation pending in both Houses of Congress - the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act."

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (DPBO, S 1102 and HR 2517) would offer across-the-board equality to same-sex partners of federal employees, at least in the area of work-related benefits.

Same-sex relationships would still not receive full federal recognition as long as DOMA remains on the books, however.

The Senate DPBO bill, S 1102, is sponsored by Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and co-sponsored by 30 other senators, including Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The House bill, HR 2517, is sponsored by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and is co-sponsored by 140 representatives.

Washington state Democrats Brain Baird, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith are all co-sponsors of the legislation.

The DPBO was reported out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in November 2009, with a favorable vote of 23-12.

It was reported out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs in December, by a vote of 8-1. Bob Bennett (R-UT) was the sole vote against it.

To date, the DPBO has not been scheduled for debate prior to a floor vote in either the House or the Senate.

None of the benefits covered by presidential directives or the DPBO apply to members of the armed forces. Repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy would be required before the Defense Department can address the needs of same-sex partners of military personnel.

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