Federal Eye: Same-Sex Benefits Bill Clears First Hurdle

A bill granting full health-care benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian federal employees cleared its first legislative hurdle today, as a House subcommittee approved the measure along a party-line vote.

The House subcommittee on federal workforce issues approved the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act by a 5 to 3 vote. The measure earned an endorsement from President Obama in June when he extended some federal benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers. The president's memo did not give access to health care or retirement benefits, something Obama said he could not do without the legislation.

"Extending equal benefits to the same-sex partners of Federal employees is the right thing to do," Obama said at the time, noting that several top employers already offer benefits to same-sex partners.

"Those companies recognize that offering partner benefits helps them compete for and retain the brightest and most talented employees. The federal government is at a disadvantage on that score right now, and change is long overdue."

Democratic subcommittee members argued today that the bill would put the federal government on par with private-sector employers that have already extended full benefits to the partners of gay employees. Republicans introduced amendments that would have removed references to "same sex" partners, arguing the bill discriminates against the domestic partners of non-married heterosexual federal employees.

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