Rep. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is the only Republican supporter of a Senate bill that would extend health care, retirement and other benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of gay and lesbian federal employees and retirees. (Blair Tomlinson / Staff)
A Senate bill that would extend health care, retirement and other benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of gay and lesbian federal employees and retirees gained traction last week when 20 senators signed on as co-sponsors.
S 1910, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, introduced by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine in November, gained the support of 19 Democrats and one Independent on Thursday. Collins remains the bill's only Republican supporter in the Senate.
"This change is both fair policy and good business practice," Collins said in a statement announcing the bill's new supporters. "The federal government must compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting the most qualified, skilled and dedicated employees. Indeed, private-sector employers are increasingly offering these kinds of benefits as standard fare."
The bill would make the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees living together in a committed relationship eligible for health benefits, family and medical leave, and federal retirement benefits.
The Obama administration already has extended some benefits, such as long-term care insurance and leave allowing feds to care for their sick partners, to gay and lesbian feds' partners. But the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the White House from extending crucial benefits such as health care. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, who is gay, has repeatedly pushed Congress to pass a law opening up the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to gay and lesbian feds' partners.
The bill would require gay and lesbian employees to swear in an affidavit that they are in a committed, exclusive same-sex domestic partnership to receive benefits. They also must swear that they are not related by blood, are at least 18 years old, share responsibility for each other's welfare and financial obligations, and intend to stay in that relationship indefinitely.
Anyone who lies to receive these benefits could face disciplinary and criminal charges, and they could be forced to repay the government for the cost of those benefits.
The federal government employs an estimated 34,000 gay and lesbian workers who are in domestic partnerships.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., also introduced companion legislation in the House in November. That bill, HR 3485, has not yet come up for a committee vote, and it could face difficulty passing the Republican-controlled House, which opposes expanding federal employee benefits.
The Senate bill had been scheduled for markup last week, but the markup was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled, according to Collins' office.