Diversity & Inclusion

White House Expands Domestic Partner Benefits

President Barack Obama recently issued a memo directing federal agencies to extend benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees to the extent permitted by current law. The memo begins:

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.

The President said he regretted that the full range of federal employee benefits can’t be extended to same-sex domestic partners without a change in the law, and he urged passage of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act currently being considered by Congress, which would effect the necessary legislative change.

The memo requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to:

  • clarify that same-sex partners’ children count as a “child” for child-care subsidies and services;
  • clarify that domestic partners and their children are “family members” for purposes of employee assistance programs;
  • propose a rule to add retirees’ same-sex partners to the list of individuals assumed to have an insurable interest in the employee; and
  • amend the guidance implementing President Bill Clinton’s expanded family and medical leave policies to specify that the 24 hours of unpaid leave available in connection with school and early childhood education, routine family medical purposes, and elderly relatives’ health or care needs also are available to meet the needs of a same-sex domestic partner or his or her children.

The memo also directs the General Services Administration to amend its federal travel regulations to allow domestic partners and their children full benefits, including travel, relocation, and subsistence payments.

The OPM provides guidance on defining a domestic partnership and states that agencies may wish to secure documentation to prove domestic partnership, but it’s not required, and agencies should consider whether there is a similar requirement for opposite-sex spouses, consistent with the President’s intent to promote equality. The OPM also directed agencies to pay attention to the memo’s requirement that agencies that adopt new employee benefits also extend those benefits to same-sex domestic partners to the extent permitted by law.

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