WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate is introducing legislation that would ensure that same-sex partners of federal employees -- even those in domestic partnerships or civil unions -- will receive the same benefits offered to heterosexual spouses.
The Senate version of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act is cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Baldwin is the first openly gay lawmaker elected to the Senate, and Collins is one of the few Republicans in Congress who supports legislation barring workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The House version of the legislation is cosponsored by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal advocate in her party for marriage equality.
The bipartisan measure would provide same-sex domestic partners of federal employees benefits open to heterosexual married couples in non-marriage equality states.
“We’ve made great progress for committed, same-sex couples in America, but we still have work to do to move freedom and fairness forward,” Baldwin said in a statement. “This bill helps provide federal employees and their domestic partners equal access and opportunity to the benefits that businesses across our country are already providing."
The bill would bring the federal government in line with many Fortune 500 companies that already extend employee benefits to domestic partners. For example, 62 percent of these businesses provide domestic partner health insurance benefits to their workers.
“This change is both fair policy and good business practice," Collins said in a statement. "The federal government must compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting the most qualified, skilled, and dedicated employees."
This is not the first time this domestic partners bill has been introduced. Baldwin first cosponsored the bill while she was a member of the House of Representatives in 1999 and served as the lead Democrat in the chamber on the legislation from 2007-2012.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage on the federal level as between one man and one woman. As a result, federal agencies began updating their policies to treat married same-sex couples the same as married heterosexual couples.
This Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act easily passed a Senate committee in 2012, although it never cleared the full chamber.
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"I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Mitt Romney said.
"This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights," said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. "No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people - and I have no doubt that this will be no exception. The march of freedom that has sustained our country since the Revolution of 1776 continues, and no matter what setbacks may occur in a given state, freedom will triumph over fear and equality will prevail over exclusion. Today's announcement is a testament to the President's convictions, and it builds on the courageous stands that so many Americans have taken over the years on behalf of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, stretching back to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village."
"I applaud President Obama for announcing his support for marriage equality today," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) "For the first time in this nation's history, a sitting president has shown the courage and leadership to stand up for all American families by pledging to support the fundamental right of every person to marry the person they love, and to have that marriage fully respected. I commend President Obama for this brave and honest step. Those who seek to politicize civil rights for personal or political gain will certainly attack him, but the course toward marriage equality and justice is the correct and inevitable path."
"I'm thrilled!" longshot GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger told HuffPost, referring to Obama's embrace of marriage equality. Karger is the first openly gay Republican or Democrat to run for president. "The Karger pressure has worked," he joked. "Particularly after the defeat in North Carolina, we welcome him to the full equality position."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Chris Coons
"I have been blessed to have a long and happy marriage. I strongly believe all Americans deserve that same opportunity," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
"While President Obama has played politics on this issue, the Republican Party and our presumptive nominee Mitt Romney have been clear. We support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and would oppose any attempts to change that," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Christine C. Quinn
"Barack Obama just announced he supports same-sex marriage," Mike Huckabee wrote in a fundraising appeal to supporters. "Nancy Pelosi immediately jumped on the announcement and emailed Democrat activists nationwide promising to continue their fight. This is going to be a defining issue this election. Obama, Pelosi and the Democrats have been a complete failure on economic issues so now they are going to focus on issues that will rile up their base. Well, Mr. President it's going to rile up our folks also. Men and women who support traditional marriage."
Rep. Bill Taylor
"President Obama's support for marriage equality marks an important moment for civil rights in America," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who co-sponsored legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). "We simply can not treat same sex couples as second-class citizens in our country. Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time and is critical to guaranteeing the equal protection under the law promised to every American in the Constitution. The President's support for marriage equality should inspire Congress, Governors and state legislatures to advance civil rights for all Americans."
Ann McLane Kuster
Sen. Patrick Leahy
"This is an historic moment and I applaud the President for his decision and courage," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said. "One of the greatest and most liberating human emotions is acceptance. And what the President did today was accept that the quality of love two people share is more important than their gender. The President's decision required him look within and engage his heart. It is truly wonderful and welcome news."
Senator Patty Murray
"As an early and strong proponent of Marriage Equality, I am very happy that President Obama has made this announcement," said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) "Marriage Equality is a matter of basic human rights and all of America's same-sex families are now closer to having their unions recognized by our government. This is an important step in our country's march toward achieving true justice and equality for all."
"President Obama's public support for marriage equality is an historic affirmation of the fundamental American value of equal rights for all," said Howard Dean. "Having signed the nation's first law allowing Civil Unions as Governor of Vermont, I'm also proud to see our president affirm the belief that I and so many other Americans hold: loving and committed couples should have the same benefits that are extended through marriage. Marriage equality is a right and a benefit to all families."
Senator Ben Cardin
Sen. Barbara Boxer
Senator Dick Durbin