US President Barack Obama on Wednesday ordered [memorandum, PDF] executive agencies to offer greater benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees and their children, expanding benefits to their allowable limits under federal law. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text] prevents the Obama administration from extending the full benefits given to opposite-sex spouses of federal employees. Despite this, a legal review conducted by the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Justice [official websites] determined that some additional benefits could be extended to same-sex couples. These include allowing the children of the domestic partners of federal employees to qualify for federal childcare subsidies and services and travel and relocation payments. Additionally, it would make all new benefits provided to the families of federal employees applicable to same-sex partners. In the memorandum, Obama explained the importance of extending these benefits:
For far too long, many of our Government's hard-working, dedicated LGBT employees have been denied equal access to the basic rights and benefits their colleagues enjoy. This kind of systemic inequality undermines the health, well-being, and security not just of our Federal workforce, but also of their families and communities.In a statement [text] made by Obama announcing the changes to federal policy, he renewed his calls for Congress to pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act [HR 2517 materials], which would extend the full benefits available to the opposite-sex spouses of federal employees to same-sex domestic partners.
The new benefits build upon those extended in June 2009 when Obama signed [JURIST report] a memorandum [text] allowing domestic partners to be added to insurance programs, to use medical facilities, and to be included in family size and house allocation considerations. In February, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] moved for summary judgment [text, PDF; JURIST report] in a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. Coakley has argued that the federal law interferes with the state's right to define and regulate marriage and alleges that DOMA excludes more than 16,000 married same-sex couples and their families in Massachusetts from rights and protections afforded to other married couples. The state alleges that it creates separate and unequal categories of married individuals, prohibiting same-sex spouses from filing joint federal tax returns, receiving Social Security survivor benefits, guaranteed leave from work for spousal illness and other rights given to married couples of the opposite sex. The Obama administration has said DOMA is discriminatory but has maintained that it is nonetheless constitutional. In March, the District of Columbia joined Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts [JURIST reports], and the Coquille Indian Tribe [OregonLive report] in legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive], extending the full benefits available at the state level to same-sex spouses.