Monday, June 28, 2010

FMLA leave: there is less in this than there appears

When President Obama was elected, he promised to be a "fierce advocate" for the LGBT community. For example, although he promised in his State of the Union speech there would be the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) this year, which is favored by something like 70% of Americans, that won't happen. The Pentagon and his own Defense Secretary dragged their collective feet (leading one to ask who is actually in charge here), and a compromise measure rescinding DADT "in theory" pending further study now languishes as an amendment to the defense bill that Obama threatens to veto (for other reasons). So much for the promise, eh?

Much less progress has been made on repeal of the invidious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), or on passage of the Employment NonDiscrimination Act (ENDA) which is tangled up in conservative fears of trans people in restrooms. The White House expends no capital on these bills but issues empty proclamations. Andrew Sullivan calls it the "fierce urgency of whenever".

The little progress there has been has come through executive orders. The problem with these is that they are weak, and not permanent. They can be rescinded by the next President, so they are pretty perilous--don't count on them. And they have unexpected stings to their tail.

The latest is an extension to the FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act. This allows people unpaid leave from their jobs of up to 12 weeks to care for a sick spouse, child, or family member. Much has been made that this is now to be extended to GLBT families so they can take care of their kids; the Williams Institute estimates that up to 100,000 children may benefit. Family values, right? Yes, that's grand, (as long as Bush the Third, whoever he may be, doesn't rescind it.)

But it's not about recognizing our families, that we have families. It is just extending the definition of who can care for a child. And while that's good, it's not really the point.

And there's one more thing. DOMA precludes using FMLA for partners to take care of one another. So if my wife were ill, under federal law, I would not be allowed unpaid leave to take care of her. Thus, the promise implicit in this executive order feels somewhat hollow. Fortunately many private employers are more forward thinking , and I'm lucky that my employer recognizes my relationship. But many people aren't so lucky.

DOMA spreads its invidious slime throughout many policies. The government is offering unmarried couples, straight and gay, some benefits. The Domestic Partners Benefits & Obligations Act (DPBO, not yet passed) that would allow federal employees some benefits for their same-sex partners? Legally MARRIED same sex couples are likely excluded because of DOMA. The IRS is moving towards modest recognition of DPs, but NOT married couples. Ironically, I am even less of a person in this country being married, than with a $20 DP certificate notarized at Kinko's.

I got news for you, Mr President--and the useless, craven Democratic Congressional caucus, you too. I don't pay second class taxes. I don't cast a second-class vote. And I don't make second class donations. It's about time for some of that "fierce advocating", not just A-list cocktail parties where the High Gay tuft-hunters get to have their pictures taken with the President and congratulate one another that the Ambassador to New Zealand is Family.

I leave you with a quote:
"I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

Barack Obama, 1996.

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