Benefits and Bene-Fits

In case you haven’t seen the news, Obama announced that he’ll extend the following to domestic partners (via memorandum that will expire when he leaves office):

In an Oval Office ceremony, Obama signed a presidential memorandum that gives same-sex domestic partners of federal employees access to long-term-care insurance benefits and allows civil servants to use sick leave to care for ailing domestic partners and children not related by blood or adoption. He also ordered the Office of Personnel Management to advise agencies within 90 days on how to comply with anti-discrimination regulations.


The memorandum yesterday also extended limited benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers, including giving them access to medical facilities at postings abroad and medical evacuations.

But, of course, benefits do not include health care, retirement, or Social Security.  As the New York Times wrote in an editorial today:

The administration has more work to do, on employee benefits and other issues, to keep its promise to work for equal rights for gay Americans.

It is deeply unfair that gay federal employees have not been able to give their partners the same benefits coverage as heterosexual employees. Since benefits are an important part of employment compensation, gay people are effectively being paid less than their heterosexual peers for doing the same work.

The administration cites DOMA has the main impediment here, but of course that’s not really a reassuring explanation.  Congress, he said, will need to pass legislation that will allow health and other benefits to be extended to same-sex partners.  Obama did say he would support such a bill.

I will say, however, that the foreign service stuff is a big step forward, probably not appreciated by folks who don’t have a knowledge of just how discriminatory the system has been.  If you were the same-sex partners of a foreign service officer, you were denied all of the helpful — and sometimes life-saving — services the State Department offered to spouses and children.  You couldn’t go in for advance notice of jobs available, you couldn’t be counted as part of the family for the sake of evacuations and the like.  So, whatever complaints there are today about this move on Obama’s part not being enough, we should at least be glad that this first step has been taken.

But there’s still a long way to go.  My patience is thin!


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