President Obama extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers Wednesday but left out the key benefits of health insurance and pensions. The move did little to quell frustration among gays who say he has reneged on campaign promises to champion their priorities.
Obama said the action "paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation's pursuit of equality."
Still, he said, "Under current law, we cannot provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples."
He urged Congress to do that.
Obama's move allows domestic partners of federal workers to get long-term-care insurance and requires supervisors to approve sick leave for employees caring for partners and non-biological children they have not adopted.
Gay partners of foreign service employees will count as family for medical care and housing.
Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, the administration's highest-ranking openly gay official, said some benefits have already been offered to employees with same-sex partners.
"Before, it's been subject to the whim of a supervisor," he said. "This is no longer optional."
Towleroad.com, a popular gay website, headlined, "Damage control: Obama to throw bone" to gay community.
Berry said Obama "stands with us 100%" and urged patience. "This is a first step, not a final step."
Even so, to many gay activists, it was a baby step for a president who vowed big strides. Obama has not ended the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, under which more than 250 gay troops have been ousted since he was sworn in. Until Wednesday, he had taken no action to increase rights for same-sex couples at a time when several state legislatures have legalized gay marriage.
"It's not good enough," said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry. "It's not true to his vision and to his very specific promises."
"When a president tells you he's going to be different, you believe him," said gay rights activist John Aravosis. "It's not that he didn't follow through on his promises, he stabbed us in the back."
Gay bloggers noted that Obama acted just days after a Justice Department legal brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act sparked protest. The 1996 law bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The brief "could have been written by the Bush administration," fumed Andy Towle, who runs towleroad.com. "It seems strange that suddenly we get a flutter of activity from the White House when it appears they're about to lose some money."
Towle is among gay donors who plan to boycott a Democratic National Committee fundraising event June 25 featuring Vice President Biden.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration must uphold all laws, even those the president opposes. He said Obama has "outlined a series of very ambitious legislative proposals" that include passing bills to protect against and prosecute hate crimes and job discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, one of three openly gay House members, said Obama was under "real constraints" and chided those who attacked the president. "I wish those people, instead of complaining, would help us get the votes in Congress," he said. "Lobbying is much tougher than rhetoric."
Contributing: Associated Press