Same-sex partner benefits bill is up for consideration

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As President Obama endorses marriage for same-sex couples nationwide, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is moving forward with a same-sex measure of its own for federal employees.

The committee will hold a markup session for the 2011 Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (S. 1910) on Wednesday, which opens retirement, health, transportation and other benefits to same-sex domestic partners of government workers. Obama has extended other benefits to these groups in the past.

The bill is co-sponsored by Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine; and 21 other senators, all Democrats. In addition to the Senate, it also would need to pass the Republican-controlled House and overcome criticism from lawmakers adhering to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and opposing any increase in federal employee benefits.

As written, the bill would not apply to opposite-sex domestic partners. Committee spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said such a provision would raise costs substantially.

“More importantly, however, is that opposite-sex domestic partners have the opportunity to get married and obtain benefits, whereas same-sex domestic partners do not,” Phillips said. She added no senator has yet approached Lieberman to discuss potential changes to the act.

Though the markup is taking place the week after President Obama publicly announced his support for same-sex marriage, Phillips said the timing was “completely coincidental” and the bill is unrelated to issues of marriage.

“We had planned to mark it up earlier this year, but other business got in the way,” she said.

A related House bill, introduced by Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., was referred to the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections in late March.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda for the Senate oversight committee: markups of bills that would modernize the Hatch Act and prevent agency heads from using political information to hire federal contractors.

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