House and Senate lawmakers reintroduced legislation on Friday that would allow the U.S. government to provide domestic partner benefits to federal employees in same-sex relationships.
The legislation, known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, would allow gay federal workers to have the same benefits for their partners that straight workers can have for their spouses — including health and pension benefits.
In the House, the legislation was introduced by lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The legislation has 53 original co-sponsors, including the other three openly gay members of Congress: Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.). Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is the sole Republican original co-sponsor for the legislation.
Baldwin in a statement said the U.S. government must “set an example as an equal opportunity employer.”
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“If we are to treat all federal employees fairly and recruit the best and the brightest to serve in government, we need this legislation,” Baldwin said.
The Senate companion legislation was introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.). The only original co-sponsor of the bill is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Both were seen as leaders in the legislative fight in the Senate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Lieberman called passage of the legislation “the next step to achieving equity for the gay community.”
“We repealed the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy in the military because we want the best men and women America has to offer to defend our country,” Lieberman said. “The same is true for federal employees: we want to attract the best men and women possible to serve in federal government. One way to do that is by offering competitive benefits to the family members of gay federal employees.”
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According to a 2009 UCLA Williams Institute report, more than 30,000 federal workers would benefit from the legislation because they’re in committed relationships with same-sex partners who aren’t federal employees.
LGBT advocates heralded the introduction of the bills as way forward to ensure gay federal workers are on the same footing as their straight counterparts.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the bill “embodies the simple principle that equal work deserves equal pay.”
“Thousands of LGBT people serve our country every day as federal civil servants, yet their families cannot receive the same important benefits that their straight coworkers’ do,” Solmonese said. “This is not simply a matter of fairness; it is also a way to ensure that the federal government recruits and retains the best and the brightest.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said Congress should pass the legislation so the U.S. government can keep up with other employers that offer domestic partner benefits.
“It is long past time the federal government — the country’s largest civilian employer — provide benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees,” Carey said. “In addition to being fundamentally fair and helpful to thousands of families all across the country, extending these benefits is a sound business decision because it will help the federal government recruit and retain the best people.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, praised both Ros-Lehtinen and Collins for bringing GOP support to the legislation.
“As the largest employer in the nation, the United States government should lead the way in attracting and retaining the best and brightest for public service,” Cooper said. “Right now the federal government lags behind 22 states, the District of Columbia, and a majority of Fortune 500 companies when it comes to providing competitive personnel policies. This commonsense legislation would provide greater access to benefits for employees, and would do so without adding to the federal debt.”
According to Log Cabin, the Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that the total cost of the legislation would average about $70 million each year through 2020. This estimated cost would be to around two hundredths of a percent, or .02 percent, of the federal government’s total budget for federal employees.
In the last Congress, both House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the legislation reported their versions of the bills to the floor. However, the legislation didn’t see a floor vote in either chamber of Congress.
The U.S. government could offer these benefits to federal employees without the passage of this legislation if not for the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Although Lieberman and Collins are championed the federal benefits in the Senate, they aren’t co-sponsors of DOMA repeal legislation known as the Respect for Marriage Act. The bill was recently reported out of committee to the Senate floor.
The Courage Campaign, Freedom to Marry and other LGBT groups have launched a campaign to convince Lieberman and Collins to co-sponsor DOMA repeal, although they haven’t signed on in support.
Lieberman has expressed concern about the portion of the Respect for Marriage Act that would enable federal benefits to flow to married gay couples even if they live in states that don’t recognize marriage equality.