Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama to Extend Limited Benefits to Same-Sex Partners of Federal Employees

06/17/09 AP (source: Gay Marriage Watch):

"We all have to acknowledge this is only one step," Obama said in the Oval Office, where he signed a memorandum extending some benefits, such as visitation or dependent-care rights [but not health care], to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees ... John Berry, head of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking gay official in the administration, said the president is doing the best he can while waiting for Congress to act.

06/17/09 White House Blog:

Obama also said that the federal DOMA is "discriminatory ... it interferes with states' rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it."

He also announced his support "for an important piece of legislation introduced in both Houses of Congress last month -- the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009." (H.R. 2517 / S.1102)

His presidential memorandum is here.

Legal Commentary (last updated 06/20/09)

06/20/09 WordinEdgewise, by law professor John Culhane:

On June 24th, Culhane will join Stacey Sobel in a debate on how the Obama Administration has addressed, or failed to address, LGBT issues. NPR’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane will host the discussion, and will post the mp3 file.

06/19/09 New York Employment Attorneys Blog:

Federal employees will now be able to add their same sex partners to their long term insurance policies, and can use sick days to take care of their partners and non-biological children ... Under the Obama administration, we could hope to look forward to more of these acts that will span the gap between gays and non-gays in the workplace. While minor, it could be a sign of a major sea change in employment law, eventually leading to the much contested "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy discriminating against homosexuals in the military.

06/17/09 WordinEdgewise, by law professor John Culhane:

The “states’ rights” reason is important to the legal ear ... [Obama acknowledged that] DOMA should be repealed precisely because it doesn’t respect a state’s decision to confer the status of marriage on same-sex couples. Not bad, although likely lost on non-lawyers (unless you are lucky enough to be reading this!)

06/17/09 Volokh Conspiracy, by law professor Dale Carpenter:

Carpenter, like Culhane, considers the conflict between the DOJ arguments to dismiss the Smelt case and Obama's comment that DOMA discriminates and violates "state's rights."

06/17/09 hunter for justice, by law professor Nan Hunter:

Criticizing [the President's memorandum] is, to be honest, too easy - like shooting fish in a barrel. It is so obviously a thrown-together document - it basically directs the agencies to identify benefits that can be extended to domestic partners without congressional action.

06/17/09 Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, by law professor Nancy Polikoff:

Early news says that one of the benefits Obama is extending to gay federal employees is the ability to use their sick leave to care for partners and their children. Well -- news flash! They already have this right.

Editorials_(last updated 06/22/09)

06/17/09 NY Times

The strong symbolism of the president’s move cannot be denied. The federal government is, for the first time, acknowledging that its employees’ same-sex partners are worthy of respect ... Still, it is impossible to ignore how much of the glass is not full. The Defense of Marriage Act ... needs to be repealed.

06/18/09 San Jose Mercury News

As he signed the order on benefits Wednesday, Obama said he was "proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation's pursuit of equality." He'll be even prouder when he finishes the job.

Advocacy Organizations

06/18/09 Religion Clause

[A] number of conservative Christian groups, as in a press release from the Family Research Council, have criticized the President's action. Dan Gilgoff reports that they contend the Memorandum essentially elevates same-sex partnerships to a status that approximates marriage, in violation of at least the spirit of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

06/18/09 NPR's WAMU Diane Rehm Show

President Obama has signed a directive giving new benefits to same sex partners of federal employees, but many gay rights advocates argue the administration is failing on campaign promises: An update on the Obama administration and gay rights. With guests John Berry, director, Office of Personnel Management and Joe Solmonese, president, Human Rights Campaign.

06/18/09 ADF Alliance Alert:

Byron Babione, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund told the Baptist Press, that

Obama's statement on DOMA [is a] "a nonsense statement." DOMA actually protects the right of states to determine social policy with respect to marriage. It allows states the freedom to protect marriage between a man and a woman and not to have the same-sex marriages of other states imposed upon them. … Repealing DOMA actually does the opposite of protecting states' rights. … Repealing of DOMA also would do untold damage to the benefits that marriage brings to society. It would open the way to defining marriage and its value out of existence."

06/18/09 Reuter (source: ADF Alliance Alert):

Obama's promise to offer ancillary employee benefits - such as long-term-care insurance and the right to use sick leave to care for domestic partners - while still denying more valuable benefits, such as health insurance and retirement funds, may have further agitated gay and lesbian activists who were already fuming over other perceived snubs.

06/17/09 NY Times:

[S]everal of the nation’s most prominent gay and lesbian political leaders quickly attacked the president for failing to extend full health care benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers, questioning the administration’s explanation that it is precluded from doing so by the Defense of Marriage Act, which Mr. Obama had vowed to repeal during his presidential campaign.

See, for example, this statement by Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

06/17/09 Family Research Council:

According to Council President Tony Perkins,

President Obama's expected Executive Order extending benefits to homosexual partners appears to be a violation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and clearly violates the spirit of the federal law which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife.

06/17/09 Human Rights Campaign:

Although today’s actions are only the beginning in what will be a multi-step process towards achieving real and tangible equality for our community, it is no doubt an important first step. We commend President Obama and his administration for taking this action to provide some basic benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees and his endorsement of legislation that would provide domestic partner health benefits.

06/17/09 Black Christian News

Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, told the Baptist Press,

"[I]t's disingenuous for Barack Obama to campaign that he wants to repeal the federal DOMA and then on the other hand say that he's in favor of marriage between a man and a woman. By repealing DOMA, you are favoring same-sex marriage being forced upon the other states."

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