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.