Monday, July 13, 2009

Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517)

A couple weeks ago during the last DOMA kerfuffle in DC, a great production was made about giving gay Federal Employees some family benefits. Only it turns out they weren't much--no health care, no retirement, ostensibly because of DOMA.

THe President pointed at a bill in Congress that would allow the Fed to recognize gay families to some extent: Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517) or DPBO, sponsored by Tammy Baldwin in the House. HRC gives us the background:
DPBO would bring employment practices in the federal government in line with those of America’s largest and most successful corporations. Fifty-seven percent of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic partner benefits to their employees. In addition, 19 states and over 200 local governments offer their public employees domestic partnership benefits. A May 2000 poll conducted by the Associated Press found that a majority of Americans favor the extension of health insurance coverage to same-sex partners. In addition, this legislation has been endorsed by the American Federation of Government Employees, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Harvard University, National Treasury Employees Union and United Church of Christ.

How the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act Would Work-- Who’s eligible?
Same- or opposite-sex couples who:
Include a federal government employee, excluding members of the armed forces, and his/her domestic partner;
Live together in a committed, intimate relationship; and
Are responsible for each other’s welfare and financial obligations.....

Domestic partner is deemed a spouse for purposes of receiving benefits.
You can almost predict the opposition to this, and Chris Geidner at Lawdork is on it:
GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT) repeatedly expressed repeated concerns about discrimination . . . against heterosexuals. Among his comments, per Eleveld, is one that “heterosexual couples who are not married would not have the same benefits as same-sex couples under this bill.” Baldwin, per Eleveld, responded: “Should heterosexuals desire those benefits, they would have the opportunity to marry.”
Geidner goes on to consider other issues that put this bill in conflict with DOMA and others.
As much as Baldwin might be able to dismiss that concern as to Utah and Wisconsin citizens, and as poorly as Chaffetz appeared to ask the question, there is a related question there that is very real and that the language of the bill does not resolve. The bill speaks only in terms of “domestic partners” with that almost quaint in some areas of the country “affidavit” requirement where same-sex couples, basically, attest that they are married in all but name.

The reality today, though, is that there are an ever-growing number of states in which there are same-sex couples married in name as well as in theory. That means that, for example, a married federal employee in Massachusetts married to a partner of the same sex, following the hypothetical passage of this bill, would be married under Massachusetts law, in a domestic partnership under federal employment regulations and single under federal tax and other laws.

If that doesn’t illustrate the long-term unsustainability of this mismatch of laws, I don’t know what does.
Expect to see a battle regardless.

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