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Federal Domestic Partner Benefits Legislation Introduced In Congress

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

A bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill earlier this month which would extend employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners inside the federal government. The benefits would be the same as those for legally marries spouses of federal employees.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2013 would mirror similar moves made by a majority of Fortune 500 companies.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly LGBT person in the Senate, stated about the legislation that “We’ve made great progress for committed, same-sex couples in America but we still have work to do to move freedom and fairness forward. This bill helps provide federal employees and their domestic partners equal access and opportunity to the benefits that businesses across our country are already providing. It’s time for the federal government to lead as an equal opportunity employer and I’m proud to work across the aisle with Senator Collins to advance that leadership.”

Senator Collins (R-ME) added that “This change is both fair policy and good business practice. The federal government must compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting the most qualified, skilled, and dedicated employees. Among Fortune 500 companies, for example, domestic partner benefits are commonplace. According to the Office of Personnel Management, nearly 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including some of our top federal contractors, extend employment benefits to domestic partners.”

Baldwin and Collins have introduced one version of the bill in the Senate. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) have introduced similar legislation in the House.

Pocan stated that “In a year of milestones for the equality movement, the federal government must continue to lead and ensure equal rights and benefits for all its civil servants. Passage of our bipartisan legislation will remove discriminatory practices that punish certain federal employees merely for whom they love and where they live. As the private sector has shown, policies that promote equality are not only the right thing to do, they also allow you to compete for the best and brightest employees.”

Pocan is the co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. Ros-Lehtinen is a member.

She added that “It has been a banner year for equality for all Americans but the Federal government still has much work to do. This is why my colleagues and I will present this bipartisan bill to ensure that employees in same sex domestic partnerships have the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples. The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (DPBO) would achieve this and I’m honored to be an original co-sponsor of this common sense bill.”

Connolly noted that “Our bipartisan legislation will strengthen our Nation’s civil service by ensuring LGBT Federal employees are treated with fairness and respect, and agencies are empowered to effectively recruit and retain a talented workforce. I often hear that the Federal Government should be run more like a business. Well, from Boeing to GE, America’s leading companies have spoken loud and clear in recognizing that no organization can remain competitive in terms of attracting and retaining great talent while discriminating against same-sex couples.”

Of course, given the move away from marriage in the United States, it might be time to consider legislation allowing domestic partnership benefits for opposite-sex couples as well.

Nearly two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies currently offer health benefits to employee’s domestic partners. This stood at 25% back in 2000. A number of states and municipalities have followed that example.

According to the legislator’s offices “Under DPBO, a federal employee and their same-sex domestic partner would be eligible to participate in federal retirement, life insurance, health, workers’ compensation, and Family and Medical Leave benefits to the same extent as married employees and their spouses. Such employees and their domestic partners would likewise assume the same obligations as those that apply to married employees and their spouses, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements. “

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