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House Moves Toward Full Benefits for Domestic Partners

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SOURCE: AP/Vadim Ghirda

U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest, right, will speak before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today about same-sex domestic partner benefits.

Michael Guest, the first openly gay ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate, retired from the foreign service for a simple but unfortunate reason—because Guest is gay his partner was unable to receive essential benefits such as safety training and overseas health coverage during Guest’s service. Today the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hear from Ambassador Guest as they take the next step toward full benefits for same-sex domestic partners with a hearing on the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517). The legislation would grant full benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees if passed.

On June 17, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum to offer some of these benefits—such as family leave—to the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees. Unfortunately, he did not have the authority to extend full benefits, such as retirement or health benefits, to those partners and called on Congress to do so.

By passing domestic partner benefit legislation the federal government will join thousands of private employers and 19 states that currently offer benefits. Last fall, the Center for American Progress examined the experiences of states that had offered domestic partner benefits in “One Simple Step for Equality.” The report found that domestic partner benefits allowed private employers and states to attract higher-quality employees, without complication, significant expense, or public backlash.

Providing domestic partnership benefits also makes good business sense. Leading businesses have recognized that the policy is necessary for staying competitive in the marketplace and attracting the highest quality employees. In addition to the value of the benefits themselves, employers that offer benefits show that they promote a workplace that embraces diversity—a growing consideration for young, highly educated workers. This explains why the majority of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic partnership benefits.

Conservatives argue that offering domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples would break the bank, but the experience of the states shows differently. Across the board, states saw lower costs than expected for domestic partner programs. For example, only 0.7 percent of state employees took advantage of the program after Connecticut expanded its benefit program to include same-sex couples—at a cost of only $825,000.

As a last resort, conservatives have been forced to turn to slapstick comedy for arguments against domestic partner benefits. Howard Weizmann, deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management under former President George W. Bush, cited the Adam Sandler film “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” last year in order to raise concerns of fraud for a federal benefits program. But in the real world states know that fraud is not widespread. Every state with benefits has developed successful—and simple—processes that grant state benefits. Employees file affidavits with documentation confirming the validity of the relationship in order to access the benefits.

Today the committee will hear a straightforward story from human resource providers, policy experts, and federal employees alike. Domestic partner benefits are an affordable and effective tool to recruit a high-quality federal workforce and, just as importantly, treat all federal employees equally regardless of sexual orientation.

Josh Rosenthal is Special Assistant to the External Affairs Department at American Progress and Will Nevius is an intern with External Affairs at American Progress.

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