November 20, 2009 | by Chris Johnson
House panel approves DP benefits bill

A U.S. House committee Wednesday approved legislation that would benefit the partners of LGBT federal workers after beating back amendments that inflamed passions among lawmakers.

The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee reported out the legislation, known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, 23-12.

The legislation, H.R. 2517, would make available to the same-sex partners of LGBT federal workers benefits afforded the spouses of straight employees, including health and pension benefits.

Now that the committee has approved the legislation, it will proceed to a House floor vote after the House Rules Committee has set guidelines for debate on the legislation. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) the only out lesbian in Congress and sponsor of the House bill, told the Agenda she hopes a floor vote would take place after lawmakers return from Thanksgiving recess.

Asked whether there are enough votes in the House to pass the legislation, Baldwin replied, “Our vote counting has been going very well and I think we will.”

But during the markup, Republican lawmakers introduced amendments on a range of contentious issues, including same-sex marriage and illegal immigration.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) put forth an amendment that would have mandated  nothing in the legislation would be “considered to modify, supersede, or otherwise affect the Defense of Marriage Act.”

The amendment, which ended up failing 12-22, inspired ire over bringing the issue of marriage into the debate as well as controversy over bringing what some called a “last-minute amendment” to the committee.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) rebuked the introduction of the measure, calling it “totally superfluous” and “absolutely an effort to play up people’s prejudice.”

Another amendment put forth by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), which failed 15-20, would have required partners to be screened through the E-Verify program under immigration law to ensure they are not illegal immigrants and have a lawful presence in the United States.

The measure riled Kennedy, who accused its supporters of bringing it up to “play on bigotry.” He suggested Republican lawmakers were making people of color, immigrants and others targets of bigotry in the legislation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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