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DOMA Still Dogs Domestic Partners of Feds

District court ruling isn’t enough to force the federal government to offer same-sex couples health benefits -- yet.

Last week appeared to bring some good news for same-sex partners of federal employees: A U.S. district judge ruled in favor of a federal employee seeking health insurance for her wife. But thanks to that pesky, politically explosive 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex partners and spouses of federal employees will have to settle for the status quo for now.

Judge Jeffrey White ruled in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that DOMA should not prevent Karen Golinski, an attorney for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, from enrolling her wife in family coverage under Golinski’s Federal Employees Health Benefits Program insurance. According to Scotusblog, White ordered Justice Department lawyers to tell him how they could deny benefits to same-sex partners after the Obama administration switched course on defending the constitutionality of DOMA.

Attorneys for House Republicans plan to appeal the ruling, and it is not clear when or if Golinski’s wife might receive benefits, according to the Washington Post. Although the Obama administration is no longer defending the constitutionality of DOMA, it still must enforce it.

The Office of Personnel Management has been able to obtain some benefits for same-sex partners, but it’s been hamstrung by the 1996 statute, which contains a section barring the federal government from granting benefits to same-sex couples.

Executive agencies must continue to enforce that section regardless of the administration’s stance, which “accords appropriate deference to the Congress that enacted DOMA and allows the judiciary to be the final arbiter of DOMA’s constitutionality,” federal attorneys wrote Tuesday.

Currently, OPM must provide the same child care benefits to gay couples that it offers other federal employees who meet income requirements. The children of same-sex couples also are eligible to participate in the government’s drug and alcohol abuse programs.

OPM also announced in 2011 that several health plans would be made available to same-sex partners of federal employees beginning in 2012. But, participating plans are not officially under FEHBP and enrollees are eligible for individual rates only and must pay full premiums, rather than the 70 percent the government typically pays for federal employee premiums.

Despite those minor gains, policy analyst Walton Francis doesn’t see things looking up for gays and lesbians in the federal workforce anytime soon.

“Until or unless OPM announces that the courts have made a final ruling and there is no discretion on the issue, FEHBP plans will not be covering domestic partners,” Francis, author of Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees told Government Executive. “I wouldn’t hold my breath that there will be any such announcement this calendar year.”

Civilian vs. Military Benefits: Round 2

The debate over civilian versus military pay is beginning to resemble a bitter sibling rivalry: Defense hawks on Capitol Hill fought back this week at civilian worker groups that are demanding pay parity between military and civilians workers.

While the civilians argue the Obama administration’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal targets civilian pay and benefits more than the military’s, several Republican lawmakers this week said the opposite. Federal News Radio reports:

“DoD leaders got battered on both sides of the Capitol Tuesday, hearing complaints from Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate that the military personnel proposals in President Obama’s 2013 budget unfairly target the uniformed military, while leaving civilians, both inside and outside of DoD relatively unscathed.”

It might not be an apples-to-apples argument: The lawmakers centered their gripes mostly on TRICARE fee increases, while civilians took aim at the differences in pension sacrifices demanded of the two groups in the budget proposal.