For apparently the first time ever in the history of the U.S. House, a gay member of Congress has obtained a congressional ID card identifying his same-sex partner as a spouse.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told the Washington Blade on Thursday the House Sergeant at Arms informed him late last month that Philip Frank, whom Pocan legally married in Canada in 2006, would be able to obtain an ID labeling him as congressional spouse. Previously, Frank was given an ID identifying him as a “designee,” but picked up his new ID on April 26.
Pocan said he’s happy Frank has received the ID designating him as spouse, but noted that federal employees with same-sex partners are still denied an array of benefits — including health and pension benefits — because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I think it’s an important step toward recognizing equality and we’re very proud of receiving it,” Pocan said. “We also realize there’s still a lot more work to do for same-sex couples that work for the federal government.”
The change of the new congressional ID is symbolic. Frank isn’t able to receive any more benefits as a result. Still, the change for the first time makes same-sex spouses equal to opposite-sex spouses in terms of identification.
At this time, Pocan is the only legally married openly gay member of Congress. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) are in same-sex relationships, but aren’t legally married, even though Polis in 2011 became the first openly gay father in Congress. Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) last year became the first member of Congress in a same-sex marriage late last year, but Pocan said Frank’s spouse, Jim Ready, never received a spousal ID.
Pocan said he had been asking the House Sergeant at Arms to make the change since he became a U.S. House in January, or at least explain the reasoning for withholding a spousal ID from a legally married couple. The House Sergeant at Arms’ office on Thursday didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the situation.
In a previously published profile piece on Pocan, the Washington Blade reported Pocan was asking the House Sergeant at Arms to make the change in partnership with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the Democratic leader was happy to help Pocan obtain an ID card for his spouse.
“Leader Pelosi was very pleased to assist Congressman Pocan in securing an appropriate ID for his husband, Philip,” Hammill said. “Congressman Pocan is to be commended for using this personal example to highlight the plight that LGBT federal employees face with respect to equal benefits.”
Even though he received the spousal ID, Pocan said the lack of major partner benefits for federal employees continues is a persistent problem. A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court against DOMA — which may happen in June as the result of pending litigation — would likely take care of it, but Pocan plans in the coming weeks to introduce legislation to address the issue known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act.
“We realize that symbolism is great and important, especially when it’s recognized by the House, but even more important is making sure that we get those full benefits for the thousands and thousands of folks who work for the federal government who aren’t recognized in the same way,” Pocan said.