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President signs bill permitting benefits for domestic partners

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush has signed into law a bill providing federal death benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners — apparently for the first time.

The new law permits life-insurance beneficiaries to qualify as eligible survivors for federal benefits if a policeman or other public-safety officer killed in the line of duty does not have a surviving spouse, child or parent. It also adds police and fire chaplains to the list of those eligible under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program.

Beneficiaries able to receive the government payment of $250,000 will include not only brothers and sisters of dead officers but domestic partners of the same or opposite sex.

The law is retroactive to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The New York Fire Department has said at least nine victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center had beneficiaries who did not qualify previously for the federal benefits, according to The Washington Post. Several had domestic partners, The Post reported.

While the law benefits both homosexual and unmarried heterosexual partners, its noteworthiness stems especially from its potential aid to the campaign to gain civil-rights protection for homosexuals.

The new law “is a simple matter of fairness and deserves the highest praise,” said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest homosexual political organization.

David Smith, HRC’s communications director, told The Post he hopes it signals “the beginning of government recognition that gay families deserve the same rights and privileges that non-gay families have.”

Mark Regan of the Family Research Council wrote, however, in an analysis of the legislation, that homosexuals have the same rights as other Americans, including an entitlement to benefits when they are the relatives of victims.

“They are not, however, entitled to compensation by virtue of their homosexual relationships,” said Regan, a FRC policy analyst. “Homosexual relationships, like other non-marital relationships (polygamy, cohabitation, etc.), can be made to resemble marriage, but that does not make them the equivalent of marriage, morally or legally. Federal law should treat domestic partnerships accordingly.”

Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman, told The Post the law “is not a determination of legal status.”

While homosexual activists lobbied for passage of the bill, the Department of Justice opposed it, according to The Post.

The signing of the bill into law June 24 is the latest development in an uneasy relationship between the Bush administration and opponents of homosexual rights.

In his 18 months in the White House, Bush has not rescinded executive orders by President Clinton that protect homosexual rights in the federal government, but he also has refused to follow Clinton’s lead in proclaiming June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.

During June, some federal departments, including Justice, sponsored “gay pride” events, while others did not.

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