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House Subcommittee Backs Extension of Benefits To Gay Partners of Government Employees

By Joe Davidson
Friday, July 31, 2009

Reflecting changing national views on gay and lesbian relationships, a House subcommittee voted Thursday to extend employee benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers.

The debate that preceded the 5 to 3 vote along party lines quickly moved beyond the federal workplace and into such fundamental cultural issues as religion, morality and the state of marriage -- heady stuff for a House Oversight and Government Reform panel that more typically deals with the arcane details of government employment.

The action by the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia would grant same-sex partners of federal workers the same benefits provided to spouses of workers, including health insurance and retirement and disability benefits. It would also subject partners to the same obligations of spouses, including abiding by anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.

Subcommittee Chairman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) said the bill promotes "the basic concepts of equity and fairness," while giving the government an additional tool in federal employee retention and recruitment. He also said the bill would place "the federal government on par with the private sector, where health insurance, retirement, disability and other benefits are already widely available to domestic partners."

But all three Republicans on the subcommittee objected, with Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah saying: "I fundamentally do not believe that we should be creating benefits like this based on sexual orientation . . . or lifestyle choices. The exception I obviously make is for the traditional view of marriage, which is between one man and one woman. I think what is sought in this bill is a recognition from the federal government of a certain lifestyle and orientation choices, which I cannot support."

The legislation, he added, seeks "in many ways to redefine marriage, and I will not, I will not stand for that."

His notion that gay and lesbians choose their sexual "lifestyle" reflects a view that was largely discredited and rejected years ago.

"It is offensive and . . . anti-science," says Leonard Hirsch, the president of Federal Globe, an organization representing gay and lesbian federal workers. "The choice here is to live as an American a lifestyle as possible to support one's partner."

Chaffetz also complained that the bill discriminates against unmarried heterosexual partners. Lynch replied that heterosexual couples have the option to marry, and he said the Office of Personnel Management recognizes common-law marriages between heterosexual couples.

The measure will now be considered by the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Food Drive

VIPs from the Obama administration and Congress put the spotlight on efforts to feed the hungry this week as they delivered tons of food collected by federal employees to the Capital Area Food Bank.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, General Services Administration Chief Human Capital Officer Gail Lovelace and Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) used the occasion to draw attention to the Feds Feed Families program, which is part of President Obama's call for volunteer projects to serve America.

"I see a single-mindedness of purpose in the government workers and volunteers gathered here at the Capital Area Food Bank," Berry said Tuesday. "Across the government, federal workers have mobilized to collect nonperishable items for local food banks nationwide."

Many federal agencies hold food drives. More information is available at http://fedsfeedfamilies.gov.

Upper-Level Survey

The federal Senior Executive Service is 30 years old this month. To mark the occasion, the Senior Executives Association is conducting a survey of upper-level civil servants, those in grades GS-14 and 15, to determine their interest in applying for SES positions.

SEA President Carol Bonosaro said her organization is undertaking the survey because of reports that many eligible federal employees "do not aspire to positions in the executive corps. The reasons most often cited include the loss of locality pay and of a guaranteed annual national comparability raise, increased hours and responsibilities, and executive pay overlap with the General Schedule and the National Security Personnel System."

Information gathered in the survey can be used to develop "incentives . . . to attract the most talented of the GS-14s and 15s to help lead agency programs," added Linda Brooks Rix, co-chief executive of Avue Technologies, which is providing technical support for the survey.

The survey is open until Aug. 14 and can be found at http://www.seniorexecs.org.

Contact Joe Davidson at federaldiary@washpost.com

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