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Eye Opener: Obama's Same-Sex Benefits Gamble

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday! President Obama's decision to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is steeped in all sorts of controversy: Some say he went too far, others suggest not far enough.

"The gay political agenda has proved to be a challenge for Obama, who since taking office has tried to drain the ideological fervor from the most divisive foreign and domestic policy debates," The Post's Scott Wilson reports today. "That agenda comprises a set of social and economic issues that at times pit Obama's religious beliefs and centrist instincts against the demands of a well-organized constituency important to his future electoral prospects."

"Obama's memorandum, designed to be both incremental and pragmatic, typifies the cautious way he has approached gay issues since taking office five months ago. Although he has appointed gays to prominent positions in his administration -- including John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management -- the memorandum marked his first official foray into the issue as president, a delay that has angered gay supporters.

"The package of domestic partnership benefits that President Obama established for federal workers on Wednesday drew the loudest protests from some of those it was intended to help, gay men and lesbians who criticized the move as too timid," writes Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times.

"Their outcry put the administration on the defensive for an action it had hoped would help address increasing complaints from gay activists who supported Mr. Obama’s election but now say he is ignoring the issues he promised to address, like a repeal of the 'don’t ask, don’t tell' policy on gay men and lesbians in the military. And it has tested the balance the administration has tried to strike between avoiding hot-button cultural issues that could distract it from pushing its ambitious economic agenda and avoiding angering key liberal constituencies that expect Mr. Obama to make good on campaign promises."

Still, as Alyssa Rosenberg of Government Executive notes today that Obama supports legislation that would grant full benefits to same-sex partners.

"The legislation, known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517) is currently under consideration on Capitol Hill.

"'Extending equal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is the right thing to do,' Obama said. 'It is also sound economic policy. Many top employers in the private sector already offer benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees; those companies recognize that offering partner benefits helps them compete for and retain the brightest and most talented employees. The federal government is at a disadvantage on that score right now, and change is long overdue.'"

Not everyone is upset: Jamie Price, a lawyer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told The Post's Steve Vogel she hopes Obama's decision will help gay employees feel more comfortable in the federal workforce. "Most gays and lesbians tend to keep a low profile," she said. "We stay out of the office coffee pot conversations about what you did over the weekend. We don't feel we can or should contribute." Obama's action "may help younger workers feel they can be open," Price added.

But gay fundraiser and activist David Mixner summed it up for those wanting more, telling Politico: "Are they kidding us? Domestic partnership benefits WITHOUT health insurance because of [Defense of Marriage Act]?” ... “It is like rubbing salt in the wound."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | June 18, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Workplace Issues  
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While there is some value in the gesture, President Obama really didn't provide any great new benefits to federal employees. Congress allowed Long Term Care to be extended to domestic partners when they passed the law years ago. At that time, President Bush’s appointed head of Office of Personnel Management chose not to do so (incidentally, citing it really wasn't a benefit). In any case, the federal government doesn’t contribute a single dime toward the Long Term Care premiums - the employee picks of all of the costs. And Family Leave has always been allowed to care those who were considered “family members” by their close relationship with the employee. It doesn't provide any additional sick leave beyond what the employee normally earns either.

Posted by: JXBrown | June 18, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

This is pathetic. He couldn't provide something significant, like a 10% off coupon for the bobble-head dolls in the White House gift shop?

It's true that the administration has a lot to deal with, so everyone needs to be patient. The LGBT community can be patient for rights, and the DNC can be patient waiting for the community to start donating their time and money again.

Posted by: marza | June 18, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I guess I'm one of the gay, Federal pragmatists who sees this as a step forward. I remember when DOMA and DADT were forced on President Clinton because the so-called leaders of the GLBT community wanted quick action and didn't anticipate any blowback by the right-wing. We can't get everything all at once and for me, I want to see the economy fixed and our troops brought home. HR 2517 will pass and become law. Let the President do what he needs to do on the timetable he has established.

Posted by: MPersow | June 18, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Please tell me why so many people feel that there is something in their lifestyle that creates an entitlement? What happened to working for a living and if you didn't like the organization, you went out and got a new job more suited to offering the benefits package you want? Why is this lifestyle given such preferential treatment soasto be deemed worthy of more of my tax dollars? My dog lives with me in my home so is my dog considered my domestic partner worthy of benefits? Where will the line be drawn? I live in a house with 3 women. Can I consider all of them my domestic partners? This is an ugly stinking can of worms not worthy of consideration.

Posted by: johnmoran1 | June 18, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Are you kidding me? You refer to Obama as a "centrist?" What planet are you living on?

He is the most radical, extreme left-wing President we have ever seen. He is a Marxist, Socialist early 20th Century Progressive.

There is absolutely NOTHING centrist about him.

Posted by: Fab4Bear | June 18, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Last week, Obama's Justice Department filed a legal brief that defended the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, a law Obama once called "abhorrent" and pledged to repeal. The brief was gratuitously homophobic, comparing gay marriage to incest. We in the gay community regard this brief as a grave insult, a broken promise, and a breach of trust. After five months of complete inaction on gay rights issues, we take this brief as a signal that Obama has little interest in keeping his promises to gay and lesbian Americans.

In an effort to repair the damage to his relationship with the gay community, President Obama temporarily extended some minor benefits to partners of some gay Federal employees. This is not what the gay community needed to hear yesterday. We needed to a commitment from the President to act soon--not "before the sun sets on this administration," but this year--on one of the major gay rights issues, such as Don't Ask Don't Tell or employment discrimination.

69% of the public supports repeal of DADT. A majority of voters in all but two states support legal protection for gays against job discrimination. It just shouldn't be so hard to tackle these issues. We in the gay community don't understand the delay. Many of us aren't going to support the Democrats any more, either financially or at the polls, if they continue to delay action on the issues that matter to us.

Posted by: equalrights | June 18, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell by the president will put us back to the status quo of 1992. It is on the congress to make the changes that will extend civil rights to the LGBT community. The President is limited by past legislation.

Posted by: jbowen431 | June 18, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

When a gay teacher or one of the gay folks goes after Obama's wife or kids, he needs to enjoy the benefits he gave them and let them have his family.

Posted by: billisnice | June 18, 2009 10:34 PM | Report abuse

johnmoran1: "Please tell me why so many people feel that there is something in their lifestyle that creates an entitlement?"

Straights have a lifestyle and entitlements for couples.

"What happened to working for a living and if you didn't like the organization, you went out and got a new job more suited to offering the benefits package you want?"

Have you ever been fired from a job for asking if family benefits would apply to your family?

"Why is this lifestyle given such preferential treatment soasto be deemed worthy of more of my tax dollars?"

Guess we ALL pay taxes.

"My dog lives with me in my home so is my dog considered my domestic partner worthy of benefits?"

Send us a picture of you and the dog. We'll decide which is the dog. The benefit? We call the SPCA on behalf of the dog.

Gets your shots soon. Ask about spay and neuter services too.

Posted by: ldfrmc | June 19, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

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