President Barack Obama will be signing a presidential memorandum Wednesday to provide benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. The signing is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. in the Oval Office, and the president is scheduled to make brief remarks.
But I want you to realize there is less in this than you think.
The big issue is that because of DOMA, these "benefits" will not include health care. They will not include retirement. As the Advocate reports,
The White House press office declined to detail which benefits would be included, but people familiar with the legal obstacles posed by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, said health benefits are not likely to be a part of the package. The Lieberman-Baldwin Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, a bi-cameral bill that was introduced last month, will still need to be passed by Congress in order for full benefits to be extended to domestic partners of federal workers
"...it will take an act of Congress for the full suite of benefits such as health benefits and retirement benefits to be provided for same-sex couples and families," said Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal Globe: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government. Hirsch said the executive branch has the authority to extend certain other benefits through departments and agencies, such as providing relocation costs for partners of federal employees.
Read that again. No health care. No retirement. Because of DOMA, which the president's DoJ supports. So they may get some relocation expenses. So what?
(There is some disagreement in the media whether health care is covered or not. The White House isn't saying "on the record" whether it is; the Advocate's legal experts and the GLOBE president say they can't be, because of DOMA. The NY Times confirms that no health benefits are included.)
Partner benefits have been provided by many employers to gay couples around the country for a long time. In fact, the HRC has a corporate equality index that ranks employers. Such benefits are not all they are cracked up to be, however. For same sex partners, they are fully taxable as income. So if your plan costs your employer say an extra $800 a month for your partner, that $9600 a year will be considered additional taxable income from the IRS. Something that they DON'T do if you are husband and wife. But Thanks to DOMA,, the Fed can't even match hundreds of private employers who already provide this option, imperfect as it is.
But you have to hand it to them, it's a very canny move. It appears in response to the DoJ debacle (it wasn't, we've heard about this for a while). They manage to deflect the gay ire by a masterful bit of legerdemain . "Look! shiny!" They spend relatively little political capital on something that affects relatively few people and gives them basically NOTHING. They manage not to address any of the Big Issues that the community cares about, those 8 promises they made about everything from DOMA to ENDA. Remember they promised to repeal DOMA? Did you know that is no longer part of their agenda. As we could tell from the DoJ brief.
Still, they have deflected the firestorm. Everyone will quiet down, and if they don't, they will be pointed at as the whiny gays. Relocation expenses! You should consider yourselves blessed! And true equality is a can that just got kicked down the road.
Update: White House Press release enumerates benefits:
For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children. For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations.
This does not include health insurance benefits, only long-term care. And as if this isn't pathetic enough, it has been suggested that these rights herein enumerated already have been given to gay federal employees--or at least are permissible, if not mandatory.
Update Good overview from The LA Times.