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Legislation introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Senate by Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon and Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut would extend health care and other benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal workers.
"This bill is very affordable, but more important, it is the right thing to do," Lieberman said in a statement. The centrist Democrat, having lost his primary to further-left Ned Lamont, faces an uphill battle for reelection as an independent candidate.
"Federal workers should be able to extend their benefits to loved ones," Smith said on his Web site. "It's a matter of fairness, and I think the government should be leading the way rather than following."
Benefits at stake include federal retirement funds; life insurance; medical, dental, and vision benefits; workers' compensation; long-term care insurance; and family and medical leave.
Same-sex partners covered under the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act would assume some of the same obligations as married federal employees and their spouses, such as antinepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.
More than 13 states, 39 cities and towns, and 8,000 companies offer domestic-partner benefits to their employees, as do the majority of Fortune 500 firms. Federal measures to exempt partners from being taxed on these benefits, which would make partner benefits truly equal to those afforded married couples, have so far been stalled by Smith's fellow Republicans.
The Human Rights Campaign hailed Wednesday's bill. "We urge Congress to provide its gay and lesbian employees equal pay for equal work, which is not only the right thing to do but good business," said HRC president Joe Solmonese in a written statement. (The Advocate)