WASHINGTON (BP)–Calling it only “a start,” President Obama signed a memorandum Wednesday giving homosexual partners of federal employees some of the benefits of married employees — a move intended to appease the homosexual community but that ended up pleasing neither that constituency nor the other side of the same-sex debate.
The memorandum directs the federal government to extend a handful of benefits to the homosexual partners of federal employees, including the ability of employees to use sick leave to take care of their ill partners and the ability to add partners to long-term care insurance. Significantly, though, the benefits will not include health insurance for spouses, because the Obama administration interprets the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as precluding such an addition.
That ’96 law, signed by President Clinton, prevents the federal government from recognizing “gay marriage” and gives states the option of not recognizing the “gay marriages” of an individual state. Obama said during the campaign he supported overturning the law and he repeated that stance Wednesday.
Obama signed the memorandum less than a week after his Justice Department submitted a brief in federal court defending DOMA — a brief that outraged the homosexual community.
“This presidential memorandum is just a start,” Obama said at the signing. “Unfortunately, my administration is not authorized by existing federal law to provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. That’s why I stand by my long-standing commitment to work with Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. It’s discriminatory, it interferes with states’ rights, and it’s time we overturned it.”
But critics say overturning DOMA would not only force the federal government to recognize “gay marriages” from Massachusetts and other states, but it actually could interfere with states’ rights by forcing all 50 states — even those where it is banned — to recognize “gay marriage.”
Obama’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act is further to the left of any president to date, much less any major presidential nominee. Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry supported DOMA when they were running for the White House. In fact, the major homosexual groups have yet to file a lawsuit seeking the complete repeal of the law.
Byron Babione, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group which opposes “gay marriage,” called Obama’s statement on DOMA “a nonsense statement.”
“DOMA actually protects the right of states to determine social policy with respect to marriage,” Babione told Baptist Press. “It allows states the freedom to protect marriage between a man and a woman and not to have the same-sex marriages of other states imposed upon them. … Repealing DOMA actually does the opposite of protecting states’ rights. … Repealing of DOMA also would do untold damage to the benefits that marriage brings to society. It would open the way to defining marriage and its value out of existence.”
Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with Liberty Counsel, which also opposes “gay marriage,” called Obama’s DOMA position “typical Obama double-speak.”
“This is patently absurd,” Barber said. “In fact, DOMA expressly protects states’ rights. If DOMA is repealed, then states like Massachusetts and Vermont will define marriage for all 50 states, effectively redefining the institution into oblivion. The president’s radical social agenda is fast taking shape and must be stopped.”
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, another conservative group, said Obama’s order “violates the intent” of DOMA. She also said married couples traditionally receive benefits because the husband-wife relationship has natural benefits for society — something that is not duplicated within same-sex relationships.
“Marriage provides unique benefits to individuals, families and society that cannot be replicated by any other living arrangements,” she said in a statement. “Marriage helps nurture children and reduces social and financial costs to society by promoting healthy behavior. Federal funds should not be a political tool to elevate partner arrangements to be treated similar to marriage.”
Obama also said he favored passage in Congress of the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, which would grant homosexual federal employees all the federal benefits of marriage, including health insurance.
Newspaper headlines summed up how Obama’s memorandum went over with the homosexual community. The San Francisco Chronicle’s website posted a story proclaiming, “Gay activists not impressed with Obama’s move.” A story on The New York Times’ website said there was an “Outcry on Federal Same-Sex Benefits” from homosexuals. The Times’ story said homosexual activists weren’t buying Obama’s explanation that the Defense of Marriage Act precluded health benefits from being offered.
“I think it’s insulting,” David Mixner, a prominent homosexual leader, was quoted as saying in The Times.
John Berry, director of the administration’s Office of Personnel Management and the top-ranking homosexual person in the administration, said during a conference call with reporters that Obama is committed to passing bills important to the homosexuality community, such as the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. He also said the Senate and House have the votes to pass a hate crimes bill to include sexual orientation.
“It’s taken us a quite a while and a lot of blood, sweat and tears of this community and many members of Congress and this president himself to ensure we have the votes to secure the passage of hate crimes,” he said. “We are all going to have to do the same to achieve the next three: passage of ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act], repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. The timeline needs to be driven by when we can secure those votes that guarantee the passage. The president has made clear he will sign these bills when they are presented to him.”
Obama’s memo also will allow the federal government to ban workplace discrimination against homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered employees, said Berry, who confirmed that the anti-discrimination policy will cover “gender identity,” a category that includes cross-dressers and any person who simply identifies himself or herself with the opposite sex.
“Clearly, gender identity — just as sexual orientation — is a non-work-related factor,” Berry said. “… In the guidance that OPM will be issuing and working with the Department of Justice to issue to federal agencies, we will be making that clear.”
The Defense of Marriage Act has two main parts — one pertaining to the federal government and the other referencing the states.
The section pertaining to the federal government states that “in determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
The section that protects states says that “no state … shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other state … respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.