Obama extends benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees

President Obama on Wednesday ordered federal agencies to extend a range of benefits to same-sex domestic partners of their employees.

"For far too long, many of our government's hard-working, dedicated [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] employees have been denied equal access to the basic rights and benefits their colleagues enjoy," Obama wrote in a memo to the heads of federal departments and agencies. "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."

Obama said while Congress would have to act to extend a full range of benefits to same-sex partners of employees, agencies had identified some that could be provided under existing law. Many of them are administered under regulations issued by the Office of Personnel Management. Obama ordered OPM to:

  • Clarify that the children of employees' same-sex partners fall within the definition of "child" for purposes of child-care subsidies and child-care services.
  • Make it clear that same-sex domestic partners and their children qualify as family members for purposes of providing employee assistance programs.
  • Issue a rule indicating that same-sex partners also qualify as family members under Executive Order 12721, which allows noncompetitive job appointments of certain family members who accompany their spouses on overseas assignments.
  • Issue a rule adding federal retirees' same-sex partners to the list of people presumed to have an "insurable interest" in the retiree under federal regulations.
  • Clarify that same-sex partners and their children can qualify as dependents for purposes of evacuation payments under federal law.
  • Amend guidance on a memo issued by President Clinton granting 24 hours of unpaid leave to employees to cover school activities, routine family medical visits and elderly relatives' health needs to state such leave can be applied to the needs of same-sex partners and their children.
  • Clarify that same-sex partners qualify as dependents for purposes of calculating an extra pay allowance for employees stationed on Johnston Island in the Pacific.

On Wendesday, OPM Director John Berry issued guidance of his own on implementing the provisions of Obama's memo. Among other items, it clarifies the definition of "domestic partner."

Obama's memo "is another major step forward for gay and lesbian federal employees," Berry said. "But it's also a good business practice. This will help us retain valuable employees and better compete with other employers for top talent."

In the memo, Obama also ordered the General Services Administration to change the definitions of the terms "immediate family" and "dependent" in federal travel regulations to include same-sex partners and children to make sure they're eligible for certain travel and relocation payments.

The memo also said agencies should "take all appropriate action" to ensure that other benefits, such as credit union membership and access to fitness facilities, are provided to employees' same-sex-partners at the same level they are to spouses.

Earlier this week, OPM finalized a regulation making federal long-term care insurance benefits available to same-sex domestic partners of employees.

That action, and Wednesday's memo, came as a result of a review Obama ordered last year of how federal benefits could be extended to the partners of gay and lesbian employees.

On Wednesday, Obama also renewed his call for passage of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517), which would grant domestic partners access to federal employee health care benefits.

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