WASHINGTON, D.C. — Citing the need to compete with the private sector for highly qualified employees, U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith and Joseph Lieberman and U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Henry Waxman, Tom Davis and Chris Shays, along with 19 additional Senate cosponsors and 35 additional House cosponsors, introduced on Dec. 19 a bill that would provide domestic partner benefits to partners of federal employees.
If passed and signed into law, the new domestic partners act would grant health, insurance and family medical leave benefits to federal employees’ partners.
More than half of all Fortune 500 companies are now offering domestic partner benefits to their employees and their partners. The benefits include access to employee healthcare, similar to the access provided to married couples, among other benefits.
“It’s time for the federal government to catch up to the private sector, not just to set an example, but so that it can compete for the most qualified employees and ensure that all of our public servants receive fair and equitable treatment,” said Sen. Lieberman (I-CN). “It makes good economic and policy sense. And it is the right thing to do.”
Sen. Smith (R-OR) echoed Lierberman’s remarks, saying, “The federal government should be leading the way rather than following when it comes to providing benefits. Rights and benefits must be afforded to all employees equally. This bill corrects the current inequity.”
The Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act of 2007 would provide federal employees and their same-sex domestic partner eligibility to participate in federal health benefits, the Family and Medical Leave program, long-term care, insurance and retirement benefits. Federal employees and their domestic partners would also be obligated to comply with the same regulations and requirements as their married, heterosexual counterparts, including anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.
The bill would not open benefits to opposite-sex domestic partners.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the offering of benefits for same-sex domestic partners of federal employees would increase the cost of those programs by less than one-half of one percent. The budget office’s estimates were based on the experiences of the numerous companies and state and local governments currently offering similar benefits.
On Dec. 20, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) praised the sponsoring senators and representatives supporting the bill.
“This legislation would allow the federal government to keep pace with other top employers,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “It is not only a matter of equal pay for equal work, but also the best way to insure that the government has access to the top talent on the same basis as the nation’s leading corporations.”
Many of America’s leading companies, including the “Big Three” automakers, defense giant Raytheon, IBM, Microsoft, Shell Oil, Walt Disney, Fannie Mae, Citigroup, Xerox, Time Warner and United and American Airlines offer domestic partner benefits. In addition, 13 states and 201 local governments offer their public employees domestic partnership benefits.
Neither state governments in the Carolinas offer domestic partner benefits nor do the majority of local governments. In North Carolina, the cities of Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro and Orange and Durham Counties offer benefits. Starting Jan. 1, the City of Greensboro will do the same.
In South Carolina, no local government offers domestic partner benefits.
In national surveys, employers report that they cover domestic partners to boost recruitment and retention of quality employees, as well as to be fair. Sens. Lieberman and Smith said the federal government cannot adequately compete with the private sector and state and local governments for qualified personnel if it doesn’t provide domestic-partner benefits.
The lack of family benefits for same-sex couples took center stage recently when Michael Guest, former ambassador to Romania, cited the lack of those benefits as his reason for retiring from the Foreign Service.
“The federal government’s failure to provide these benefits impairs its ability to compete for the best and the brightest,” said Solmonese.
According to HRC, a May 2000 Associated Press poll found that a majority of Americans favored the extension of health insurance and other benefits to same-sex partners.
Similar legislation was introduced in the last congress session and endorsed by the American Federation of Government Employees; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Harvard University; the National Treasury Employees Union; and the United Church of Christ.