There were details, then an explanation, and now President Obama has signed the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, granting some benefits to gay and lesbian federal employees. It’s a step in the right direction, yes, but it’s not nearly enough.
With Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman and Vice President Joe Biden by his side, Obama took time to address discrimination that continues, such as the Defense of Marriage Act, which he claims he’ll work with Congress to repeal. And then he signed his name to what he called an “executive order”; news outlets are calling it a memo.
But trying to smooth over relations with the gay community after big name donors pulled out of the Democratic National Committee LGBT Leadership Council fundraising dinner, this little missive is, as expected, seriously lacking. (But not so lacking that conservative groups found themselves without a new cute term: “marriage light.”) It lets federal employees in same-sex relationships to take off work to care for an ill partner, and lets those posted abroad use health services.
But here’s what Obama did not include above his signature:
• An executive order (though Obama called it one), which would make the benefits permanent even after he leaves office, and not able to be easily undone by a succeeding president who simply interprets the the law differently, which his memo allows.
• A direct call on legislators to immediately draft legislation to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, and then pass legislation that would extend all benefits (such as health insurance) to the partners of same-sex federal employees that Obama says DOMA currently prohibits.
• A demand that legislators move on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act immediately, approving it once Rep. Barney Frank introduces it in the House next week.
• Voice his support for the Uniting American Families Act and reassure gay Americans he will sign the legislation once it hits his desk.
• An apology for letting his Justice Department, among other things, compare gay American families to incestuous relationships. But as we just learned, that is not about to happen.
Listening to Obama talk about gay people here, he sounds like our ally — the man we knew during the presidential campaign. Hearing him speak so fondly of the gay community, and the rights we deserve, is reassuring. But we’ve come to learn we can’t trust Obama’s words alone. No action? No trust.
well, today I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality.
Many of our government’s hard-working, dedicated, and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason — the people that they love are of the same sex.
Currently, for example, LGBT federal employees can’t always use sick leave to care for their domestic partners or their partners’ children. Their partners aren’t covered under long-term care insurance. Partners of American Foreign Service officers abroad aren’t treated the same way when it comes to the use of medical facilities or visitation rights in case of an emergency.
These are just some of the wrongs that we intend to right today.
In consultation with Secretary of State Clinton, as well as OPM Director John Berry, my administration has completed a long and thorough review to identify a number of areas where we can extend federal benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service and executive branch government employees.
I’m requesting that Secretary Clinton and Director Berry do so where possible under existing law — and that the heads of all executive departments and agencies conduct reviews to determine where they may do the same.
Hundreds of Fortune 500 companies already offer such benefits not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because they recognize that it helps them compete for and retain the best possible talent — and we need top talent serving their country right now more than ever.
Now, under current law, we cannot provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
That’s why I’m proud to announce my support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, crucial legislation that will guarantee these rights for all federal employees.
I want to thank Representative Tammy Baldwin, who is behind me somewhere — there she is, right there — for her tireless leadership on this bill and in the broader struggle for equality. I want to thank Senator Joe Lieberman — Joe is here — as well as Susan Collins for championing this bill in the Senate; and Representative Barney Frank for his leadership on this and so many other issues — in fact, this is his second trip to the White House today. (Laughter.)
It’s a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step. Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it’s discriminatory, I think it interferes with states’ rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it.
We’ve got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally; to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms; and to bring about that more perfect union. I’m committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come.
Thank you very much everybody, and with that I am going to sign this executive order.