January 28, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Obama calls for equal treatment for same-sex couples at town hall

Touting his belief that same-sex couples should have equal treatment under the law, President Obama on Thursday said same-sex couples should have access to pension benefits and hospital visitation rights.

According to a transcript, Obama made the remarks in response to a question he received during a town hall meeting in Tampa, Fla., when he was asked what he was doing to make good on his State of the Union pledge to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as well as what he was doing to make sure LGBT people are treated as equals.

Obama said the U.S. Constitution’s principle of equal protection means people should be treated the same, regardless of who they are, and that this principle ”applies to gay and lesbian couples.”

“So at the federal level, one of the things that we’re trying to do is to make sure that partnerships are recognized for purposes of benefits so that hospital visitation, for example, is something that is permitted; that Social Security benefits or pension benefits or others, that same-sex couples are recognized in all those circumstances,” he said.

The president also touted pending legislation in Congress known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. The bill would grant the same-sex partners of LGBT federal workers the same benefits that are available to the spouse of straight workers, including health and pension benefits.

“A lot of companies, on their own, some of the best-run companies have adopted these same practices,” he said. ”I think it’s the right thing to do and it makes sense for us to take a leadership role in ensuring that people are treated the same.”

The complete exchange between the questioner and Obama follows:

Q    All right, I’m Hector and I’m a student at UT.  (Applause.)  And my question is, last night you talked about repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and my question is what are you doing now to put in motion so that same-sex couples and homosexuals are treated as equal citizens of the United States, i.e., same-sex marriages and the thousand-plus benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy after marriage?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, as I said last night, my belief is, is that a basic principle in our Constitution is that if you’re obeying the law, if you’re following the rules, that you should be treated the same, regardless of who you are.  (Applause.)  I think that principle applies to gay and lesbian couples.  So at the federal level, one of the things that we’re trying to do is to make sure that partnerships are recognized for purposes of benefits so that hospital visitation, for example, is something that is permitted; that Social Security benefits or pension benefits or others, that same-sex couples are recognized in all those circumstances.

I think that we’ve got to — we actually have an opportunity of passing a law that’s been introduced in Congress right now, and my hope is this year we can get it done, just for federal employees and federal workers.  A lot of companies, on their own, some of the best-run companies have adopted these same practices. I think it’s the right thing to do and it makes sense for us to take a leadership role in ensuring that people are treated the same.  (Applause.)

Look, if you are — regardless of your personal opinions, the notion that somebody who’s working really hard for 30 years can’t take their death benefits and transfer them to the person that they love the most in the world and who has supported them all their lives, that just doesn’t seem fair.  It doesn’t seem right.  (Applause.)  And I think it’s the right thing to do.

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

4 Comments
  • I love the way Obama tries to dodge the question by mentioning the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. But since he did mention it, they should have pressed him to explain what his administration has done. The fact is, DPBO has been passed out of committee in both the senate and house and is just waiting for a floor vote by the whole senate / house. Why doesn’t he give Sen Reid and Speaker Pelosi a call and ask them to schedule a vote. Jesus, its like pulling teeth to get these people to do anything. I got an email yesterday from Pelosi asking for some campaign contributions to the Democratic Congressional Committee and I sent a response email saying I was sorry, but I won’t give them any money, support or votes until they keep their promises and pass DPBO and ENDA. Unfortunately, this is all they understand in the end, so I recommend we all tell them to deliver before they come around asking for money and support.

  • BLAH, BLAH, BLAH…. Calling DP benefits a measure of equal status is, at best, ignorant and deceitful, at worst. Mr. Obama appears to not recognize that DP benefits suffer different tax treatment that spousal benefits, and his consistent use of “Look…” reminds me of my grandfather’s use of the word preceding any verbal act of deception. Separate is never equal, and saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.

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