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Obama extends some rights to gay federal workers
by Rex Wockner
2010-06-09

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President Barack Obama issued a memo June 2 detailing benefits that federal agencies must provide to same-sex couples and their families.

"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," Obama wrote.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the benefits include "credit union membership; access to fitness facilities; hardship transfers to maintain or improve the health of a domestic partner to the same extent provided to opposite-sex spouses; planning and counseling services ( including briefings on employee pay and allowances, career counseling, retirement counseling, financial counseling, resource and referral services, planning sessions for permanent change of duty station, deployment support, parenting support groups, and elder care support groups ) ; family assistance services ( including adoption counseling, parenting counseling, childcare, elder care, financial planning, and home improvements ) ; family and morale/wellness/recreation ( MWR ) events ( including barbeques, golf outings, or awards ceremonies ) ; access to medical treatment; access to lodging or allowances; joint consideration of transfers; and accidental death and dismemberment insurance."

In addition, OPM said, "agencies not governed by Title 5, U.S. Code" ( such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, according to the Human Rights Campaign ) will offer additional benefits, including "health insurance premium reimbursement program; dental insurance ( including for retirees ) ; vision insurance; dependent life insurance; relocation assistance and expense program; employment opportunities for spouse/same-sex domestic partner upon permanent transfer of employee; business travel accident insurance; receipt of transferred annual leave to provide care to same-sex domestic partner with medical emergency; reimbursement of up to $250 ( less taxes ) for eligible expenses of employee and same-sex domestic partner, including for fitness center memberships, physical exams, and homeowners insurance; and expressions of sympathy policy recognizing hospitalization, illness, or death of family member, including a same-sex domestic partner, with a floral arrangement, fruit basket, or donation to charity up to $80."

Ordinary health and retirement benefits for federal employees are not included in the policy changes because of the anti-gay federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, Obama said. He called for passage of a measure pending in Congress to fix that problem.

"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," Obama wrote. "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."

HRC "commended" Obama's memo.

"All employees should be treated equally and without discrimination, whether they are straight or LGBT, and this is certainly a positive step in that direction," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "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."

Lambda Legal's Jennifer Pizer, director of the group's Marriage Project, said: "Fair access to relocation support, Family and Medical Leave protections, child care services, retiree pension annuities and the range of other benefits offered ( in certain circumstances ) to federal employees will make an immense practical difference to the many thousands of LGBT workers who serve the American public."

"We appreciate and echo President Obama's exhortation to Congress to act swiftly to pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, and also the Respect for Marriage Act ( which will repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act ) ," Pizer said. "Equal access to family health insurance for all LGBT Americans is long overdue, and this harsh discrimination against hard-working public employees deserves an immediate remedy."

—Assistance: Bill Kelley


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