June 2, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Obama extends limited partner benefits to federal workers

President Obama issued a memorandum on Wednesday clarifying that federal agencies are now required to offer certain benefits to federal workers with same-sex partners.

In the memo, Obama says for “far too long” federal employees with domestic partners have been denied equal access to “basic rights and benefits their colleagues enjoy.”

“This kind of systemic inequality undermines the health, well-being, and security not just of our federal workforce, but also of their families and communities,” she said.

As a result of the memo, new benefits required by the federal government include making children of federal workers with same-sex partners eligible for federal child-care subsidies and child-care services.

Additionally, same-sex partners and their children now qualify as “family members” for the purposes of employee assistance programs.

The new memo builds off an earlier memo Obama issued in June direecting federal agencies to determine whether the Defense of Marriage Act prohibited the federal government from offering these benefits.

In the new memo, Obama says the U.S. Office of Personnel Management provided him a report recommending that all these benefits can and should be extended.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the new memorandum is “certainly a positive step” in providing equal rights to LGBT couples.

“The limitations of these new benefits however serve as a glaring reminder that the Defense of Marriage Act ultimately stands in the way of providing true equality to LGBT Americans,” he said.

In another statement, OPM Director John Berry, the highest ranking openly gay person in the Obama administration, praised Obama for going forward with these benefits.

“This is another major step forward for gay and lesbian federal employees,” Berry said. “But it’s also a good business practice — this will help us retain valuable employees and better compete with other employers for top talent.”

The OPM statement says the agency has issued guidance to all the federal agencies to implement the president’s memo.

But even with the new directive, most of the major of benefits afforded to the spouses of straight workers — health and pension benefits — cannot be extended to same-sex couples under current law.

Passage of the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, which is pending for floor consideration in Congress, would rectify this situation.

In the new memo, Obama apparently recognizes the need for this bill and says “legislative action is necessary to provide full equality to LGBT federal employees.”

Solmonese commended Obama’s recommendation for further legislation to offer major benefits to federal workers in same-sex relationships.

“We welcome the President’s renewed call to pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and call on Congress to pass it swiftly,” Solmonese said. “When a majority of the Fortune 500 offer equal benefits, it should be a no-brainer that the federal government catch up.”

According to a recent report from the Williams Institute, an estimated 34,000 federal workers were in open relationships with same-sex partners in 2007. The new changes specified by Obama could assist these federal workers.

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

1 Comment
  • Its about time Obama got back around to the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. The little tid bits he can offer the LGBT community don’t really amount to much, and true enough full benefits won’t come for partners of gay & lesbian Federal workers until Congress passes the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. The LGBT community really needs to push Congress on this, because the bill has already passed out of committee in the House & Senate and is waiting for a floor vote in both houses. So whats the hold-up? The GOP is against it, (No surprise there) but why isn’t the Democratic leadership in Congress bringing the bill up for a vote???

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