- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2012

In the wake of President Obama’s shift last week in support for gay marriage, a Senate panel announced plans to mark up a bill Wednesday that would extend marital and retirement benefits to federal employees in same-sex domestic partnerships.

This bill is “the next step to achieving equality for the gay community,” said Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, lead sponsor of the bill with Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican.

The goal is to attract “the best men and women possible” to serve in federal government, Mr. Lieberman said when he introduced the bill in November.

Offering competitive benefits to family members of gay federal employees is one of the best ways to do that, he said, adding that his bill makes economic sense, is sound policy and is “the right thing to do.”

But to opponents of same-sex marriage, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2011 flies in the face of the Defense of Marriage Act, the bill Congress passed in 1996 essentially defining marriage in federal law as a union of a man and a woman.

The act is the subject of several lawsuits seeking to overturn it, and Mr. Obama’s Justice Department has said it will no longer defend the law in court, but the law remains in effect.

The Lieberman-Collins bill “seriously undermines the spirit, if not the letter,” of the act, said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.

“[The Defense of Marriage Act] was clearly intended to create a situation in which the marriage of one man and one woman was treated uniquely under federal law,” Mr. Sprigg said. “And this, by extending a huge number of the benefits of marriage to domestic partners of federal employees, seriously undermines that uniqueness.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, director of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Mr. Lieberman and Ms. Collins are showing “tremendous leadership in trying to bring the federal government in line with our country’s most successful businesses.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, almost 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies as well as dozens of states, local governments and the District of Columbia provide domestic-partnership benefits to their employees.

Wednesday’s vote “will showcase how important benefits equality is for the federal government to recruit and retain the best talent,” Mr. Cole-Schwartz said.

The Lieberman-Collins bill would provide “the same employment benefits and obligations” to federal employees in same-sex domestic partnerships as those given to married federal employees. These benefits include health, life and long-term care insurance programs, and the right to participate in the Civil Service Retirement System and Federal Employees Retirement System.

The bill would require domestic partners to file a legal affidavit to affirm the “existence and legitimacy” of their partnership.

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