Legislation was introduced today in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to provide for domestic-partner benefits for federal government employees.
Independent senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Susan Collins of Maine introduced the bill in the Senate, as they have in previous sessions. Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who is one of the four openly gay members of the House, and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida introduced it in that chamber.
"The federal government must set an example as an equal opportunity employer," Baldwin said in a press release. "If we are to treat all federal employees fairly and recruit the best and the brightest to serve in government, we need this legislation."
The bill would allow federal employees and their same-sex domestic partners to participate in federal retirement, life insurance, health, workers' compensation, and family and medical leave benefits to the same extent as married employees and their spouses. They would also be subject to the same antinepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements that apply to married heterosexual workers.
The sponsors noted that nearly 60% of Fortune 500 companies now offer health benefits to employee's domestic partners, as do 18 state governments and at least 150 municipalities. A Washington Postarticle earlier this week noted that gay federal employees do not enjoy many of the benefits of their private-sector counterparts.
The Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, has kept the military from extending full benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian service members. The Postreports that the sponsors of the domestic-partner bill did not address how the legislation would deal with DOMA. However, DOMA is being challenged in court, and the Obama administration is not defending it; also, an effort to repeal it is under way in Congress.