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Obama Signs Memo Opening Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2009 – President Barack Obama signed a memorandum yesterday opening up benefits to same-sex couples and forbidding discrimination in the federal workplace.

“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,” Obama said before signing the memorandum. “I’m committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come.”

The president announced his support of the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act now before Congress. The act will guarantee the rights for all federal employees, he said.

Obama also called on Congress 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,” he said.

“This action presses for long overdue progress in our nation’s journey to equality,” said John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management. “The president recognizes that many of our hard-working, dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied many of the rights and benefits that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason: the people they love are of the same sex.”

Berry, who spoke during a telephone news conference, said he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had conducted reviews to see if benefits could be extended within the confines of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program, and supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and nonbiological, nonadopted children,” Berry said.

For foreign service employees, the benefits include the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad and inclusion in family size considerations for housing allocations.

The president’s memorandum directs OPM to issue guidance within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, civil service laws, which make it unlawful to discriminate against federal employees or applicants for federal employment on the basis of factors not related to their job performance.

The memo does not include health benefits or survivor benefits. “It requires legislation to address health benefits and insurance for same-sex couples and domestic partners,” Berry said.

Fifty-seven percent of Fortune 500 companies currently provide domestic partner benefits, as do 16 states and more than 200 local governments. These entities offer the 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,” Obama said.

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