Monday, August 3, 2009

Benefits for Same-Sex Partners of Federal Employees?

According to Joe Davidson's article from Friday's Washington Post [subscription required] a House subcommittee voted Thursday to extend employee benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers.

The debate that preceded the 5 to 3 vote along party lines quickly moved beyond the federal workplace and into such fundamental cultural issues as religion, morality and the state of marriage -- heady stuff for a House Oversight and Government Reform panel that more typically deals with the arcane details of government employment.

The action by the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia would grant same-sex partners of federal workers the same benefits provided to spouses of workers, including health insurance and retirement and disability benefits. It would also subject partners to the same obligations of spouses, including abiding by anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.

Subcommittee Chairman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) said the bill promotes "the basic concepts of equity and fairness," while giving the government an additional tool in federal employee retention and recruitment. He also said the bill would place "the federal government on par with the private sector, where health insurance, retirement, disability and other benefits are already widely available to domestic partners."

But all three Republicans on the subcommittee objected, with Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah saying: "I fundamentally do not believe that we should be creating benefits like this based on sexual orientation . . . or lifestyle choices. The exception I obviously make is for the traditional view of marriage, which is between one man and one woman. I think what is sought in this bill is a recognition from the federal government of a certain lifestyle and orientation choices, which I cannot support."

The legislation, he added, seeks "in many ways to redefine marriage, and I will not, I will not stand for that."

His notion that gay and lesbians choose their sexual "lifestyle" reflects a view that was largely discredited and rejected years ago.

"It is offensive and . . . anti-science," says Leonard Hirsch, the president of Federal Globe, an organization representing gay and lesbian federal workers.

Chaffetz also complained that the bill discriminates against unmarried heterosexual partners. Lynch replied that heterosexual couples have the option to marry, and he said the Office of Personnel Management recognizes common-law marriages between heterosexual couples.

The measure will now be considered by the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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