Fed domestic partner benefits bill moves to full Senate

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., co-sponsored the measure Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., co-sponsored the measure Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Another small, familiar-sounding step was made Wednesday for federal employees in same-sex relationships.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed the 2011 Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (S. 1909) in a speedy voice vote that moves the bill to the full Senate.

No changes to the measure were proposed, though Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., asked to be recorded as a “no” vote, and three committee members expressed their opposition by proxy: Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., reiterated that the bill, which he co-sponsored, was unrelated to President Obama’s recent announcement endorsing same-sex marriage.

“I’m sure people will link the two, but the timing really is coincidental,” Lieberman said, noting the legislation has been kicking around in Congress since 2006. He added, “many people who oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, including myself, strongly support this equality in employee benefits for domestic partners.”

Lieberman cited a Congressional Budget Office report estimating the bill would cost the government an average of $70 million a year and compared that to the $400 billion paid out in total federal compensation each year to show the costs are relatively small. He also emphasized the bill would make same-sex domestic partners of federal employees subject to the anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements that apply to married couples are.

Ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the bill, which she also co-sponsored, would make the federal service more appealing to young people, even those who would not need or qualify for the benefits. “They look at the presence of this benefit as the sign of the employer being a good employer,” Collins said.

The legislation has not had much luck in past Senates: Though Lieberman has introduced variations on the bill into the last four Congresses, according to the Associated Press, the measure has never passed.

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