By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com June 02 2010 4:25 PM ET
President Barack Obama issued a presidential memo Wednesday outlining “certain available benefits” that federal agencies will now be required to provide to same-sex partners of federal workers and their families. The guidance builds on a memo Obama issued last June instructing federal agencies to review the benefits they administer in order to determine what could be offered pursuant to current law.
“I am proud to announce that earlier today, I signed a Memorandum that requires Executive agencies to take immediate action to extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees a number of meaningful benefits, from family assistance services to hardship transfers to relocation expenses,” President Obama said in written statement (available in full below).
Same-sex partners and their children will now be taken into account for the purposes of day care, travel and relocation, and employee assistance programs. For instance, children of a federal worker’s partner will now fall under the definition of “child” and be eligible for child-care subsidies. Same-sex partners will now qualify as “family members,” making them eligible for employee assistance programs.
Most same-sex partners are still ineligible for health and pension benefits, according to the administration’s reading of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“Unfortunately, my Administration is not authorized by existing Federal law to provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples,” Obama wrote in last year’s June 17 memo. “That's why I stand by my long-standing commitment to work with Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. It's discriminatory, it interferes with States' rights, and it's time we overturned it.”
In Wednesday’s statement Obama also renewed his call for passage of the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, which would provide health and pension benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. The bill has been reported out of the committee of jurisdiction in both the House and Senate and awaits consideration by the full body of each chamber.
“This legislation, championed by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, would extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees the full range of benefits currently enjoyed by Federal employees’ opposite-sex spouses,” Obama said. “I look forward to signing it into law.”
However, some agencies, like the intelligence agencies and financial regulatory agencies, have greater discretion in establishing terms and conditions of employment, including the benefits available to their employees. Some have used that authority to provide health insurance, dental and vision insurance, life insurance, and other benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees. The president’s memorandum encourages all agencies that have such flexibility to take action to provide benefits to domestic partners that are currently available to spouses and permissible by law.
The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal government’s 1.9 million employees, was expected to issue further guidelines shortly after the presidential memo was released.
Candy Holmes, a spokeswoman for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Employees of the Federal Government (GLOBE), called the guidelines "a step in the right direction" and said the range of benefits extended was more than she had expected.
"These changes are vital for the government in its ability to retain and attract qualified individuals," Holmes said. "Like many federal employees, I am anxiously looking forward to these changes, as I'm moving one step closer to retirement."
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said, “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.”
Full statement by President Obama on today’s announcement:
Statement by the President on the Extension of Benefits to Same-Sex Domestic Partners of Federal Employees
Last year, I issued a Presidential Memorandum that instructed the Office of Personnel Management and the Secretary of State to extend certain available benefits they had identified to gay & lesbian federal employees and their families under their respective jurisdictions. Among those benefits were long-term care insurance and expanded sick leave for civil service employees and medical care abroad, eligibility for employment at posts, cost-of-living adjustments abroad and medical evacuation for domestic partners of foreign service members. In that same Memorandum, I called upon the federal agencies to undertake a comprehensive review and to identify any additional benefits that could be extended to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees under existing law. That process has now concluded, and I am proud to announce that earlier today, I signed a Memorandum that requires Executive agencies to take immediate action to extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees a number of meaningful benefits, from family assistance services to hardship transfers to relocation expenses. It also requires agencies that extend any new benefits to employees’ opposite-sex spouses to make those benefits available on equal terms to employees’ same-sex domestic partners to the extent permitted by law.
While this Memorandum is an important step on the path to equality, my Administration continues to be prevented by existing Federal law from providing same-sex domestic partners with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. That is why, today, I renew my call for swift passage of an important piece of legislation pending in both Houses of Congress — the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. This legislation, championed by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, would extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees the full range of benefits currently enjoyed by Federal employees’ opposite-sex spouses. I look forward to signing it into law.
The presidential memo is available here.