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Should Government Provide Health Insurance Benefits To Same-Sex Partners Of Federal Employees?

March 13, 2009

President Obama needs to lead on this issue.  Frankly there is no room anymore for equal rights to play second fiddle to the whims of the Republican Party.  I do not want to hear that someone’s equal rights are being held hostage to get votes from the GOP on some banking bill, or other piece of legislation.  Playing civil rights for votes on other matters would not be ‘change’.  It would be the same rot. 

Just seven weeks into office, President Obama is being forced to confront one of the most sensitive social and political issues of the day: whether the government must provide health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers.

But the federal Office of Personnel Management has instructed insurers not to provide the benefits ordered by the judges, citing a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama said he would “fight hard” for the rights of gay couples. As a senator, he sponsored legislation that would have provided health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Now, Mr. Obama is in a tough spot. If he supports the personnel office on denying benefits to the San Francisco court employees, he risks agitating liberal groups that helped him win election. If he supports the judges and challenges the marriage act, he risks alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters.

In a letter on Feb. 20 to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, an arm of the federal judiciary, Lorraine E. Dettman, assistant director of the personnel office, said, “Plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program may not provide coverage for domestic partners, or legally married partners of the same sex, even though recognized by state law.”

Benefits are available to the spouse of a federal employee, Ms. Dettman said, but the 1996 law stipulates that “the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

Federal officials said they had to follow the laws on the books. But Richard Socarides, a New York lawyer who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay issues, said he believed that Mr. Obama “has broad discretionary authority to find ways to ameliorate some of the more blatant examples of discrimination.”

The orders were issued by the chief judge of the appeals court, Alex Kozinski, and another member of the court, Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

Judge Kozinski, often described as a libertarian or an independent conservative, and Judge Reinhardt, a liberal, ruled not as part of a lawsuit, but in their role as employers resolving employee grievances.

Similar issues were raised in a lawsuit filed against the federal government last week in Boston by eight same-sex couples. The administration is weighing how to respond.

Gay federal employees said they were denied equal compensation when their partners were denied health benefits.

Administration officials declined to say what they planned to do in the California cases if the judges tried to enforce their orders.

2 Comments
  1. Thomas J Canton permalink
    March 18, 2009 12:29 PM

    Solly: You forgot Slick Willie’s other fine contributions:

    “That’s depends on what is is.”

    “Oral Sex is not sex.”

    “I did not inhale.”

  2. March 14, 2009 3:50 AM

    well, Bill Clinton is the gift that just keeps on giving – DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) – how’s that workin’ out for ya? Oh, he did appoint a few democratic gay hacks, I guess we should be happy with that. How groundbreaking. How brave. Signing DOMA in the dead of night, but taking gay money at the fundraisers during the day.

    This is a moment of truth for the Obama administration.
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

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