Obama Gives Some Benefits, But Not Health Care, to Same-Sex Couples

President Barack Obama signed legislation Wednesday that extends some benefits, such as dependent-care and visitation rights, to partners of federal employees who are in a same-sex relationship. He did not, however, give them health care -- the big victory they wanted.

The Washington Post reported:

"For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children. For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations."

The Associated Press reported on the issue and on what Obama's critics are saying:

"Obama aides urged gays and lesbians to have patience with the new White House's slow-and-steady approach to the politically charged topic. But his critics -- and there were many -- saw Wednesday's incremental move to expand gay rights as little more than pandering to a reliably Democratic voting bloc, with the primary aim not of making policy more fair but of cutting short a fundraising boycott."

The Washington Post's "Federal Eye" blog said:

"Obama noted that by law, the government cannot grant gay couples the same range of benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. He said he supports the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, which would further extend benefits to gay couples.

"He also reiterated his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act: 'It's discriminatory, it interferes with States' rights, and it's time we overturned it,' he said.

"Earlier in the day during a conference call with reporters, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said 'This is a first step, not a final step.'"

DOMA Watch, a site that tracks the Defense of Marriage Act, said:

  • State Issues: Information on the various state laws and same-sex 'marriage' litigation in the states, through a clickable map of the states.
  • Federal Issues: Information about the federal DOMA and litigation in federal courts, through a clickable map of the federal Circuit Courts of Appeal.
  • Current Legal Challenges: Detailed information on pending challenges to state and federal marriage laws, with links to cases and decisions.
  • Resources: Additional snapshot summaries (marriage litigation in 2006, state marriage amendments passed to date, etc.)

The Boston Globe reported on another aspect of the issue, saying that same-sex couples can't use their spouse's surname when applying for passports in the U.S.

The Los Angeles Times has published a related fact sheet about non-discrimination and federal benefits.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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