Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chuck & Larry's Big Day in Washington

Yesterday, the United States Senate held hearings on legislation, sponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), to provide benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. The government rightly offers important family benefits, such as healthcare, to the married spouses of those who work in the federal government . . . but federal law also carves out an unacceptable exception for same-sex partners, who receive no such benefits. Senator Lieberman is leading the effort to change that, along with Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who is sponsoring similar legislation in the House.

At Wednesday's hearing, there was a sole voice in opposition to offering such benefits, which the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles noted today would be of negligible cost to U.S. taxpayers. That lone voice was Howard Weizman, Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency charged with implementing benefit programs for federal employees.

Originally telling Congress that OPM had no position for or against Senator Lieberman's proposal, Weizman was later passed a note and changed his tune: OPM, he said after reading the letter, was opposed to extending benefits to same-sex partners.

His reason? The feature film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, a comedy about a widowed father who marries his male friend in order to receive healthcare benefits for his children.

That's right . . . his sole argument for advocating that the United States refuse critical benefits to families was the plotline of a Hollywood blockbuster which, he said, proved that fraud would run rampant in the government healthcare system should the Senate take action to treat every federal employee equally.

Mr. Weizman forgot to mention that there are many proven ways to prevent widespread fraud, or that straight employees could marry their single friends who don't now have health insurance. And he could not cite a single real world example of such fraud. In fact, he didn't even note that many corporations already offer such benefits, and have not reported any problems with doing so.

The truth, of course, is that the families of every employee, LGBT or straight, should receive the benefits they deserve. By treating some government works as less than others, Washington sends an unfortunate message that some Americans are worthy of first-class care . . . and some should be left behind.

Even Chuck & Larry, we imagine, would be all for lawmakers passing this common-sense legislation and doing the right thing.

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