Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate introduced on Thursday a bill that would ensure gay federal workers would have access to employee benefits for their same-sex partners even if they’re not legally married.
The Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act was introduced in the House by gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and in the Senate by lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
Under the bill, a federal employee could gain access to health and pension benefits for a same-sex partner if the employee submitted an affidavit to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management certifying the relationship.
The Obama administration has determined that gay federal employees in legal same-sex marriages are eligible for these benefits in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against Section 3 of DOMA. Moreover, OPM determined gay federal employees would be eligible for these benefits even if they reside in non-marriage equality states.
Still, that implementation of the ruling didn’t cover couples living in civil unions or domestic partnerships, or those unable to travel to gain access to a same-sex marriage. It only applies to federal employees working in states where marriage equality isn’t currently recognized.
In a statement, Pocan said the legislation would ensure the federal government will “continue to lead” in providing equal rights and benefits for civil servants.
“Passage of our bipartisan legislation will remove discriminatory practices that punish certain federal employees merely for whom they love and where they live,” Pocan said. “As the private sector has shown, policies that promote equality are not only the right thing to do, they also allow you to compete for the best and brightest employees.”
Among the current 53 co-sponsors in the House are Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Ileana Ros-Lentinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). In the Senate, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joins Baldwin in introducing the bill.
Ros-Lehtinen said the legislation would the bring the federal government into alignment with other LGBT success in the past year.
“It has been a banner year for equality for all Americans but the Federal government still has much work to do,” she said. “This is why my colleagues and I will present this bipartisan bill to ensure that employees in same sex domestic partnerships have the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples.”
One LGBT advocate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Baldwin wanted to reintroduce the legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA to ensure gay federal employees have partner benefits even if they live in non-marriage equality states.
“Sen. Baldwin felt strongly that until all same-sex couples have the opportunity to live in marriage states, a variety of relationship recognition opportunities should be made available so that the greatest number of federal employees could access important benefits,” the advocate said.
Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is “about the basic concept of fairness in the workplace.”
“Corporate America has led the charge in offering equal pay for equal work, and the U.S. Supreme Court sent a message this summer that the Federal government should follow their lead,” Herwitt said. “Equal workplace policies, like those DPBO would enact, will help attract and retain the best and brightest talent, which is exactly what our federal workforce needs.”
Pocan sits on the House Committee on Oversight & Reform and Baldwin sits on the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee – which both had jurisdiction on the legislation in previous years.
Both lawmakers also represent Wisconsin in Congress. That state has limited domestic partnerships, but not same-sex marriage.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the president is reviewing the current version of the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act.
“The President has supported previous versions of the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, and he continues to support providing benefits to same-sex domestic partners of all federal employees who are unable to marry under state law,” Inouye said. “While we have not yet reviewed the version introduced today, we look forward to working with Congress to achieve this important goal to promote the equal treatment of all federal employees.”
UPDATE: This posting has been updated in the wake of news statements from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the Human Rights Campaign providing more information.