June 17th, 2009
07:58 PM ET

White House extends benefits to gay workers

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/06/16/obama.same.sex.benefits/art.obama.townhall.afp.jpg caption="President Obama has been criticized by gay rights activists for not doing more since taking office."]

Suzanne Malveaux
CNN White House Correspondent

Sources familiar with White House thinking and involved in administration discussions with gay advocates:

Benefits: President Obama will announce the following extended benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees:

-family medical leave
-healthcare benefits for the children of domestic partners
-survivor benefits
-hospital visitation

For State Department employees: Same sex partners will be treated the same as spouses for foreign workers and diplomats including:

-use of medical facilities overseas
-access to medical evacuation

Healthcare Insurance

The President will say that he supports providing direct healthcare benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, but that those benefits require legislation, legislation that he supports. Mr. Obama will announce the benefits the White House can do administratively. (see above)

Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

The President will also reiterate his support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (which denies same-sex married couples federal marriage benefits.)

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) blocks same-sex couples legally married in their states from getting federal marriage benefits like social security, favorable tax benefits, and inheritance. There are more than one thousand federal benefits in the US federal code that are available to spouses of straight couples.

The President's position has been he's not in support of gay marriage, but if states decide to sanction it, same-sex couples married in those states should have those marriages fully recognized on the federal level.

Boiling Point for some gay advocates

Last week the Justice department defended DOMA in a brief it filed. Administration officials told gay advocates the Justice department was "obliged to defend it because it was the law of the land, a federal statute" but that the President still believed it should be repealed.

Sources involved in White House discussions say the problem was the WAY Justice department lawyers defended DOMA,  the language used was considered "denigrating to same sex relationships", "the wording was terrible" several gay activists said. When they privately confronted White House officials about this, they were told the President "felt the same way", that the filing was "not worded well" and when he saw the language he was "embarrassed" by it.

Don't ask, Don't tell Policy
The President said as a candidate he was committed to repealing the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy which prohibits gay military from revealing their sexuality.  It's a statute so Congress has to repeal it, but gay advocates are pressing Mr. Obama to do a "stop loss" in the meantime, which would immediately stop discharges of gay military personnel.

President Bush implemented a "stop loss", (an order for no more discharges except in specific cases), when the US military needed more soldiers during the Iraq war. Sources involved in White House discussions say there is an ongoing debate over the issue, with some in the Defense department arguing it's not an authority they want to use here. The last public discharge to cause great controversy was over a gay translator. There remains a hot debate within the Administration whether they should "do something administratively or legislatively" regarding gay military.

Who's a couple?
John Berry, the director of Office Personnel Management, who is openly gay, is working on how the Administration defines same-sex couples. He is modeling it on what private corporations use like examining proof of co-habitation, joint checking accounts, joint savings accounts, a lease with both names, etc. Sources say Barry is looking at the standards already set in the private industry.


How President's message likely to be received?

Several gay advocates say "this is a good first step." One said, "It puts him on record as the first time the President is supporting real gay rights." "These issues are particularly important to young gay people. The first public inclination of Obama beginning to tackle their agenda, which he promised in the campaign" "But one advocate said the President "will get a hard time" on the continuing discharges from the military. Sources familiar with White House discussions say the President's announcement will be a small Oval Office event involving about 12 people because the Administration was "not ready for a big event."

Congressional Obstacles
Sources involved in the White House discussions say another reason there is a delay in tackling the gay community's agenda is Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid "have a certain order of things, what they want to get done for the gay community. Hate crimes first, employment discrimination, don't ask don’t tell, then federal benefits. The Administration is going out of order because of the outcry over discharges and the Justice department DOMA flap." Some gay activists are also threatening to protest or boycott a DNC/LGBT fundraiser Vice President Biden is headlining Thursday in DC. "But the White House is not so much concerned about that" one source involved in the Administration's discussions said.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Melissa

    I'm with Sharon on this one.

    June 18, 2009 at 10:26 am |
  2. Sharon

    Why are some American so afraid of this universal health care. It does work in Canada and we are allow to choose our own doctors. I have my own doctor so does many others. Our doctors are not choosen by the government. It is the insurance company in the USA that are afraid of the universal coverage because they won't be raking in the big bucks .

    June 18, 2009 at 9:44 am |
  3. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    Yes the whole system needs to change. It's long overdue! Thank you Mr. President, but so much more is needed.

    Donna Wood
    Lil' Tennessee

    June 18, 2009 at 9:28 am |
  4. Linda B., Ga

    The company I retired from has offered this to Same Sex partners, for quite a few years. I think it is great, but, what they don't offer and I don't think it's fair is that they don't extend the offer to those who have partners of the opposite sex (heterosexual relationships). The whole system needs to change....

    Have a GREAT day ALL 🙂

    June 18, 2009 at 8:57 am |

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