Obama Extends Benefits to Unmarried Partners
Federal workers will now get benefits for their “partner” whether they are married or not, Scott Butterworth reports for WaPo’s 44 blog.
President Obama will announce tomorrow that he is extending federal benefits to include unmarried domestic partners of federal workers, including same-sex partners, White House officials said tonight.
Obama will sign an executive order implementing the change in the Oval Office, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the president’s announcement.
The move would give partners of federal employees access to health care and financial benefits such as relocation fees for moves. The State Department announced a similar extension of benefits last month, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling it “the right thing to do.”
The action will come as welcome news to gay-rights activists, who have voiced loud disappointment with Obama’s handling of several issues important to their community.
It’s not clear to me how he has the authority to make such a sweeping change without Congress passing a law.
Nor is it clear how one determines who is a “partner” without a marriage certificate. Presumably, one simply declares that Person X is one’s “partner” (or, in Texas, “pardner”) and they it? So, presumably, one could simply designate friends who are down on their luck and need health insurance as one’s “partner” on a rotating basis, “breaking up” with one’s that get insurance on their own and finding another? Certainly, that would give whole new meaning to the phrase “friends with benefits.”
(I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here. Several municipalities implemented similar policies years ago, so I’m sure there are provisions in place to limit abuse. But it’s got to be easier to change “partners” than spouses or whatever name one gives to those united in a civil union.)
It should be noted that Jeff Zeleny‘s NYT report suggests a plan less comprehensive than Butterworth reports.
Mr. Obama will be weighing in for the first time on one of the most delicate social and political issues of the day: whether the government must provide benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. While he will announce a list of benefits, officials said, they are not expected to include broad health insurance coverage, which could require legislation to achieve.
At any rate, this should at least assuage the gay community, which is peeved at Obama for defending current law like DOMA and DADT while not pressing to overturn them anytime soon?
Not so much. John Aravosis reports on an embarrassing collapse of a gay fundraiser and Pam Spaulding is ripping Obama a new one for the lameness of this benefits plan and for having no master strategy to implement a gay rights agenda.
UPDATE: Now that the announcement is made rather than speculative, it’s apparently not making anyone happy.
The package of domestic partnership benefits that President Obama established for federal workers on Wednesday drew the loudest protests from some of those it was intended to help, gay men and lesbians who criticized the move as too timid.
The administrative memorandum extending some partnership rights to federal workers in same-sex relationships, which Mr. Obama signed late Wednesday, allows administration personnel to take leave to care for sick partners and requires the government to recognize their partners as household members when determining overseas housing allocations for State Department employees, among other things.
But several of the nation’s most prominent gay and lesbian political leaders quickly attacked the president for failing to extend full health care benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers, questioning the administration’s explanation that it is precluded from doing so by the Defense of Marriage Act, which Mr. Obama had vowed to repeal during his presidential campaign.
Their outcry put the administration on the defensive for an action it had hoped would help address increasing complaints from gay activists who supported Mr. Obama’s election but now say he is ignoring the issues he promised to address, like a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay men and lesbians in the military. And it has tested the balance the administration has tried to strike between avoiding hot-button cultural issues that could distract it from pushing its ambitious economic agenda and avoiding angering key liberal constituencies that expect Mr. Obama to make good on campaign promises.
Speaking from the Oval Office on Wednesday, Mr. Obama said the memorandum — which represents his interpretation of existing law — represented just a start. “This is only one step,” Mr. Obama said. “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.” Mr. Obama said he would indeed work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, calling it “discriminatory.” He also announced his support for legislation that would extend full health care benefits to federal workers, a measure whose sponsors include Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Representative Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, both of whom stood behind the president Wednesday afternoon.
But late Wednesday, Elaine Kaplan, general counsel for the office of personnel management, said federal statutes dictated that many vital health care benefits be conferred only to “spouses” and children of federal employees, effectively making it a benefit of marriage as defined by the marriage act. Ms. Kaplan said the new legislation the president is supporting would remedy that prohibition. In the meantime, she said, his memorandum would cover those benefits that do not fall under the more restrictive statutory language.
I’m pleased that the president has followed the law here. I am somewhat confused, however: Surely, benefits conferred to same-sex partners are also available for opposite-sex partners? Otherwise, it would surely be discriminatory.
Photo by Flickr user dawnzy58 under Creative Commons license.