Lawmakers on Friday reintroduced legislation that would enable the U.S. federal government to give domestic partner benefits to federal employees in same-sex relationships.
Currently the government is banned from conferring these rights per restrictions in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which prevents the government from recognizing same-sex unions.
Introduced in the House by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and in the Senate by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) alongside Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act would allow the government to offer a range of rights federal workers in same-sex relationships are currently denied, including many health and pension benefits.
“This legislation is the next step to achieving equity for the gay community,” Lieberman said. “We repealed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in the military because we want the best men and women America has to offer to defend our country. The same is true for federal employees: we want to attract the best men and women possible to serve in federal government. One way to do that is by offering competitive benefits to the family members of gay federal employees. This legislation makes good economic sense. It is sound policy. And it is the right thing to do.”
Collins said: “This change is both fair policy and good business practice. The federal government must compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting the most qualified, skilled, and dedicated employees. Today, health, medical, and other benefits are a major component of any competitive employment package. Indeed, private sector employers are increasingly offering these kinds of benefits as standard fare. Among Fortune 500 companies, for example, domestic partner benefits are commonplace. According to the Office of Personnel Management, nearly 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including some of our top federal contractors, extend employment benefits to domestic partners.”
Under the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2011, same-sex domestic partners of federal employees living together in a committed relationship would be eligible for health benefits, long-term care, Family and Medical Leave, and federal retirement benefits, among others. Federal employees and their domestic partners would also be subject to the same responsibilities that apply to married federal employees and their spouses, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.
Senators Lieberman and Collins have introduced this legislation in two previous congressional sessions.
A 2009 UCLA Williams Institute report found that over 30,000 federal workers are in committed relationships with same-sex domestic partners who are not federal employees and, therefore, face disparities in what benefits they can claim when compared to their straight counterparts.
It is estimated that almost 60% of all Fortune 500 companies, one out of every three employers, and 50% of all employers with 5,000 or more workers, already provide benefits to employees’ domestic partners.
Twenty states and several hundred local jurisdictions also extend such benefits to employees in same-sex domestic partnerships.