Domestic Benefits: A Sure Thing for Same-Sex Partners

In case there was any lingering doubt from last fall about the government’s position on providing domestic benefits for same-sex partners of federal workers, Office of Personnel Director John Berry erased them this afternoon.

The White House and OPM, he said at the top of his statement to a House hearing, “wholeheartedly endorse passage” of legislation that would provide that health and retirement coverage.

His clear, declarative statement could not have been more of a turnaround from the agency’s bumbling presentation in September. Then, an OPM official told a Senate committee that the Bush administration had no position on similar legislation, only to minutes later correct himself after being slipped a note by an aide, to say OPM actually opposed the bill.

His use of the movie “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” an Adam Sandler film about two fire fighters who pretend they are lovers so they can get domestic partner benefits, to demonstrate the dangers of insurance fraud, also gained his position more incredulity than respect.

But now, the Obama administration has reversed the Bush administration’s position and the new policy was presented by the government’s highest-ranking openly gay official.
The current policy, Berry said in his prepared testimony, “is unjust and it directly undermines the Federal Government’s ability to recruit and retain the nation’s best workers. Historically, the federal government has in many ways been a progressive employer, but we’re behind the private sector and 19 states, including Alaska and Arizona, on this one. Almost 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies already offer similar benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of their employees. ..... ...The Federal Government does not effectively compete with these companies for every talented person when we fail to offer comparable job benefits to our employees.”

That did not convince Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the top Republican on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on federal workforce, postal service and the District of Columbia, which held the hearing. He said the bill “is directly discriminatory against heterosexual couples” who cohabitate without marriage. The legislation would not cover them.

Berry said those couples have the option to marry, which would allow them to be covered.

By Marcia Davis  |  July 8, 2009; 4:51 PM ET  | Category:  Office of Personnel Management
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