White House Continues to Expand Benefits to Same-Sex Federal Couples

Obama administration looks to finalize gay feds and veterans’ access to benefits.

Gay federal employees will soon be eligible for leave to care for their ill same-sex spouses, the latest in a series of measures taken by the Obama administration to push for federal benefits for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule Monday that would give legally married same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex spouses under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The proposal follows last year’s Supreme Court ruling that found the Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman unconstitutional.

In 1996, OPM issued final FMLA regulations to match the law’s definition of a spouse to DOMA. OPM issued guidance to agencies in October noting employees could use FMLA leave -- which allows employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid time off in a 12-month period -- to care for their same-sex spouses, retroactive to the Supreme Court’s ruling. This rule would codify that guidance in federal statute.

OPM issued a litany of changes to federal employees’ benefits in light of the Supreme Court ruling, just days after the decision. The White House has renewed its push to fully implement the DOMA reversal in recent days, including a Veterans Affairs Department initiative to ensure same-sex spouses are eligible for applicable veterans’ benefits.

The Supreme Court’s ruling did not initially apply to VA, as its governing laws made no mention of spouse. Attorney General Eric Holder ruled in September, however, that VA must apply the same interpretation as other agencies in administering its benefits. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the agency has continued to work with the Justice Department to formulate guidance on issuing benefits to married same-sex couples, which the agency released Friday.

“Our commitment to provide all eligible veterans and their families with their earned care and benefits will continue to be our focus as VA begins recognizing same-sex marriages to the extent the law will allow,” Gibson said. He noted current law still prohibits VA from issuing benefits to same-sex couples who were married in a state where it was legal but live in a state where it is not, but promised to work with lawmakers to fix the inequity.

President Obama announced last week he would soon issue an executive order barring workplace discrimination against LGBT employees among federal contractors. The Justice Department on Friday issued a report detailing the progress each agency has made in extending various federal benefits to gay individuals. 

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