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House subcommittee approves benefits for same-sex partners

Aug. 15, 2009 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments

A House subcommittee today advanced a bill to provide health and retirement benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of gay and lesbian federal employees.

The bill, HR 2517, passed the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia on a party-line vote.

Democrats said the bill is needed to eliminate an inequality that drives some talented employees away from the government. Gay and lesbian employees currently cannot cover their domestic partners under their health insurance or provide an annuity for their partners after they die, even if they are legally married in states that recognize gay marriage. Supporters of the new bill say the current policy places an undue financial burden on as many as 34,000 gay and lesbian federal employees in domestic partnerships, who have to maintain separate health plans to keep both partners covered.

Many states and Fortune 500 companies offer same-sex partners such benefits.

"We are way behind the country," Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said. "Wake up. The country has changed on these issues. Congress is following, not leading."

But Republicans objected to the bill, saying it discriminates against unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners, who are excluded from the bill. Republicans also said the bill creates special rights for homosexuals and devalues traditional marriage by creating a marriage-like status for gay and lesbian partners.

"I am against taxpayer funding for these benefits because it is totally inconsistent with the belief that marriage should be one man and one woman," Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ill., said.

Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., introduced an amendment that would have extended benefits to unmarried heterosexual partners, but Democrats called it a "poison pill" designed to ensure the bill's defeat and voted it down. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said the amendment was unnecessary because heterosexual feds can marry their partners to get them benefits, and the government provides health benefits to common-law spouses in states that recognize common-law marriage.

The full committee is expected to consider the bill in September.

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