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Some benefits extended to same-sex partners

Jun. 6, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said June 2 that the extension of some benefits to same-sex partners is "another major step forward for gay and lesbian federal employees."
Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said June 2 that the extension of some benefits to same-sex partners is "another major step forward for gay and lesbian federal employees." (Tom Brown / Staff file photo)

Gay and lesbian federal employees' same-sex domestic partners and their children are now eligible for child care, employee assistance, credit union membership and other benefits heterosexual employees' families now receive.

And beginning July 1, federal employees and retirees will be able to add their same-sex partners to their long-term care insurance policies.

But President Obama's order does not include the benefits gay and lesbian employees want most, such as health insurance and survivor annuities, which are still off limits to employees' same-sex partners because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama released a statement June 2 calling for Congress to pass HR 2517 and S 1102, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would make same-sex domestic partners eligible for the same benefits as married heterosexual spouses of federal employees.

"This is another major step forward for gay and lesbian federal employees," Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said June 2 as he issued a memo to agencies on how to implement Obama's June 1 order. "But it's also a good business practice. This will help us retain valuable employees and better compete with other employers for top talent. Youth today, LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] or not, see these benefits as a litmus test for determining high-quality employers."

The federal government employs an estimated 34,000 gay and lesbian workers who are in domestic partnerships. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage or recognize marriages from other states. Eight other states allow civil unions, or provide at least some spousal rights to domestic partners. The federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Obama's memo clarifies that the children of employees' same-sex partners are considered the employees' children and dependents, and it says those employees are now eligible to receive child care subsidies and services offered by an agency. Same-sex partners and their children also count as family members for other employee assistance programs.

The memo also makes same-sex partners of State Department employees deployed abroad eligible for noncompetitive appointments to federal jobs when they return to the U.S., as heterosexual spouses are now.

And gay and lesbian feds can now use family and medical leave to make school arrangements for their partners' children, or for medical care for their partners, as well as for their partners' children and elderly relatives.

Federal employees can already add their same-sex partners as beneficiaries on their federal life insurance plan. But bills now before Congress would also allow them to insure their partners under Option C coverage, which covers family members.

Employees' partners also now have access to fitness facilities and planning and counseling services.

Obama ordered agencies to ensure all benefits created in the future are extended to gay and lesbian employees' partners, if allowed by law.

Declaring a domestic partnership to the federal government will not be a casual decision. In his guidance, Berry outlined a number of requirements domestic partners must meet. Berry also said agencies may choose to secure documentation from gay and lesbian employees, such as a sworn affidavit, to establish the existence of a domestic partnership, but they are not required to do so.

But the government will require an affidavit for same-sex partners to be added to long-term care policies.

"OPM does not expect to establish more rigorous criteria for the attestation as that would impose a greater burden on domestic partners than other qualified relatives," OPM said in its notice on the long-term care benefit in the Federal Register. "For instance, we do not require documentation such as bank statements or other proof of financial support for spousal coverage."

Anyone who lies to receive domestic partner benefits could face discipline and criminal charges, and be forced to repay the government for the cost of those benefits.

OPM said several people who commented on the proposed long-term care regulations asked for unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners of federal employees and retirees to also be made eligible for long-term care insurance. OPM decided against allowing that because heterosexual couples can obtain that coverage by getting married, but gay and lesbian feds cannot.

Obama first called for expanding long-term care coverage and other benefits in June 2009, and OPM released proposed long-term care regulations in September.

"For far too long, many of our government's hard-working, dedicated LGBT employees have been denied equal access to the basic rights and benefits their colleagues enjoy," Obama wrote in his memo. "This kind of systemic inequality undermines the health, well-being and security not just of our federal workforce, but also of their families and communities."

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