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Obama Extends Benefits for Feds’ Same-Sex Partners

President Barack Obama signed a memorandum this week requiring government agencies “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,” he said in a White House statement, coinciding with the designation of LGBT Pride Month.

“For far too long, many of our government’s hard-working, dedicated LGBT employees have been denied equal access to the basic rights and benefits their colleagues enjoy,” he wrote in the memo. “This kind of systemic inequality undermines the health, well-being and security not just of our federal workforce but also of their families and communities.”

All of The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® have same-sex domestic-partner benefits, a requirement to be on the list, while 59 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic-partner benefits to employees, reports Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Same-sex partners of eligible federal employees could also have access to gym and credit-union memberships, career and other counseling services, government medical facilities and lodging allowances, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Some intelligence and financial-regulatory agencies will be able to provide reimbursements for health-insurance premiums, dental and vision insurance, business-travel accident insurance, physical exams and homeowners’ insurance, reports The Washington Post.

DiversityInc’s upcoming event in Washington, D.C., will be Nov. 8–9 and will offer federal agencies tips on evolving their diversity-management strategies. For information, click here.

The OPM, which oversees human resources and benefits for more than 1.9 million federal civil servants and 2.5 million retirees and survivor beneficiaries, issued guidance to federal agencies to clarify the definition of “domestic partner,” identify benefits offered on an agency-by-agency basis (not all are available to employees government-wide) and outline other reporting requirements.

“This is another major step forward for gay and lesbian federal employees,” OPM Director John Berry said. “It’s also a good business practice—this will help us retain valuable employees and better compete with other employers for top talent. President Obama has stated clearly that this is an issue of equality. But just as important, youth today, LGBT or not, see these benefits as a litmus test for determining high-quality employers.”

Last June, Obama extended some same-sex partner benefits to foreign-service members (such as healthcare abroad, eligibility for employment at posts and cost-of-living adjustments abroad) and civil-service employees, including long-term-care insurance and expanded sick leave.

Legal Limitations

The commander-in-chief’s most recent order also requires that agencies extend any new employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners “to the extent permitted by law,” states the memo.

While Obama’s move is a step toward equality—and he has done more for gay and lesbian federal employees than any of his predecessors—the new policy still doesn’t include health-insurance benefits to gay and lesbian partners because of legal challenges under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“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,” said Obama. “I call for swift passage of an important piece of legislation pending in both Houses of Congress—the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act.”

Led by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act would extend to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees the same benefits currently provided heterosexual federal workers. “I look forward to signing it into law,” said Obama.

Obama’s strong leadership is being lauded by gay-rights advocates.

“We welcome the President’s renewed call to pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and call on Congress to pass it swiftly,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “When a majority of the Fortune 500 offer equal benefits, it should be a no-brainer that the federal government catch up.”

“These changes are vital for the government in its ability to retain and attract qualified individuals,” said Candy Holmes, a spokesperson for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Employees of the Federal Government, in Advocate.com. “Like many federal employees, I am anxiously looking forward to these changes, as I’m moving one step closer to retirement.”

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