White House Says Obama Taking “Bold Action” on Benefits for Same Sex Partners

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jun 17, 2009 4:42pm

ABC News' Yunji de Nies reports:

Later this afternoon President Obama will sign a memo in the Oval Office, extending benefits for partners of gay and lesbian federal employees. This may seem like a victory for the LGBT community, but many gay and lesbians are upset about what is not included: health care, retirement and survivor benefits. The actual benefits are widely viewed as small potatoes, and include things like relocation benefits, and evacuation and housing benefits while abroad for State Department employees. The White House says the president cannot extend health care and other benefits because of legal challenges under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which the president has said he wants to repeal. "Many gay and lesbian activist feel this falls far short of the promises President Obama made to the gay community on the campaign trail," said the Advocate's Kerry Eleveld.  "Many are already saying if the president wanted to do something really bold he would spearhead an initiative to repeal DOMA." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president is committed to changing both DOMA and the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, but that Congress, not the White House, must take the lead. In a conference call with reporters, the president's highest ranking openly gay appointee, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry defended Mr. Obama's actions as "a first step, not a final step. This is an attempt to get our federal house in order." But some federal workers say that what the White House is calling new benefits, such as use of sick leave to care for a domestic partners, is already available to federal employees.  Berry said that while that may be true in some instances, granting those benefits has "been subject to the whim of a supervisor, if you have an enlightened supervisor, yes that is a possibility."  Berry continued, "What the president is doing today is making this no longer, optional, he is making it mandatory." Many gay activists also question the timing of the president's action, which comes as the administration is under increasing criticism for the lack of movement on changing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"  and a recent Department of Justice memo, which in defending DOMA, compared gay marriage to incest. Asked about the controversial comparison, Gibbs said, "Well, again, it's the president's Justice Department. And, again, we have the role of upholding the law of the land while the president has stated and will work with Congress to change that law."

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