Federal Judges in California Push Same-Sex Benefits as Issue
Recent action by judges of a federal appeals court in California has put the issue of whether the government should provide health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees before President Obama, the New York Times reports.
Judges of the federal appeals court in San Francisco in two separate orders said that same-sex partners of the court's employees are entitled to health benefits under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The judges did not issue the orders as part of a lawsuit but as part of their role as employers resolving workers' complaints.
In a Feb. 20 letter to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, which is part of the federal judiciary, Lorraine Dettman, assistant director of the Office of Personnel Management, said that FEHBP plans cannot provide coverage for domestic partners or legally married partners of the same sex. She added that FEHBP plans are permitted to cover a spouse of a federal employee, which the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act defines as "only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."
During his presidential campaign, Obama said he would "fight hard" for the rights of gay couples. As a U.S. senator, he sponsored legislation that would have provided health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
According to the Times, Obama could anger some of the groups who supported him during the presidential election by supporting OPM's stance, but also could upset Republicans if he backs the judges' orders.
Obama administration officials did not say what they planned to do if the judges attempt to enforce the orders.
Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesperson, said, "While the president opposes gay marriage, he supports legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. He believes this country must realize its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."
Obama's OPM Director-designate John Berry also has endorsed providing health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) plan to introduce bills that would provide health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
Although similar legislation has been unsuccessful, Baldwin said "the new administration will have a new view."
OPM estimates providing health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees would cost $670 million over 10 years (Pear, New York Times, 3/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.