WASHINGTON (BP)–Extending marriage-like benefits to same-sex couples will give such unions an elite status and will promote a social agenda largely opposed by evangelical Christians, a former Southern Baptist Convention president told members of Congress.
Testifying July 8 with seven other witnesses before a House of Representatives subcommittee, Frank Page, SBC president from 2006-08, was the only one who opposed a bill to extend benefits now reserved for the spouses of federal employees to the same-sex, domestic partners of such workers. Among the benefits the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act would bestow on homosexual partners of federal employees are health insurance, retirement and disability benefits, group life insurance, and family and medical leave.
“I do believe that it has been the perennial role of the government to support the institutions of society, such as marriage,” Page said before the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia. “[This bill] is taking a direct role in opposition to a traditional definition and support of that which marriage has traditionally been….
“[T]he government should be in the process of encouraging the traditional marriage that has stood for many, many hundreds of years as that way that culture is best protected,” Page said, adding that “government ought to be encouraging, not discouraging, [marriage]. And I think this act discourages.”
The pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said he believes in “moral absolutes.”
“Those are words we have not heard today,” Page said as the last witness in a lengthy hearing. “Those are words that are not popular in our culture today.
“We also, as unpopular as it is today, believe that this is a part of a social agenda that continues to seek normalization of a homosexual lifestyle that I and, I believe, many other evangelicals, not all, certainly oppose,” Page said. “We care for people. We do love people, but we’re painted as if we are hateful, caricatured as mean-spirited. We’re not. But we do believe there are absolutes, and we stand by them.”
Page said he opposes the bill for financial reasons, as well as moral ones. In written testimony submitted before the hearing, he expressed concern about the possibility of widespread fraud and waste.
“I do believe that this creates an opportunity for abuse,” Page told Rep. Stephen Lynch, D.-Mass., the subcommittee chairman and the only member in attendance when Page testified. “I’ve heard the promises today of supposed safeguards, but I’ve got to tell you, Mr. Chairman, that I am like many Americans. We don’t trust the government’s ability to guard itself and its policies real well.”
The bill is intentionally discriminatory in its legalization of benefits for homosexual couples but not unmarried, heterosexual couples, Page said.
“This bill promises equal treatment, but I believe that it has created an elitism,” he said. ”There are same-sex couples that do not wish to get married. There are opposite-sex couples that do not wish to get married for many reasons. This sets aside same-sex couples as an elite class, and those same benefits would be denied to opposite-sex couples who choose not to marry.”
Page was scheduled as the last witness to appear before the House subcommittee. By the time he was allowed to testify, only Lynch was present. Also, Lynch acted deferentially to the other witnesses, all supporters of the bill.
Yet, Page spoke forcefully but respectfully for his position. Still, Page did not accept the dismissive attitude of the subcommittee chairman.
At one point, Lynch told Page, “I respect your position.” However, Page challenged Lynch’s assertion, saying, “No sir, I don’t think you do, but thank you for saying that.”
In his written testimony, Page said he does not support extending marriage-like benefits to unmarried, heterosexual couples as a solution. He also wrote that the bill:
— Is vague in defining what constitutes a domestic partnership.
— Undermines the rationale for the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing homosexual marriage and gives states the authority to refuse to recognize the same-sex marriages of another state.
During earlier testimony when the full subcommittee was present, the lead Republican on the subcommittee — Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah – expressed some similar concerns and also affirmed his belief in traditional marriage.
Chaffetz said he believes in traditional marriage, noting, “Marriage by any other name is of concern to me and I think a majority of Americans.”
Chaffetz expressed concern the bill would amount to “direct discrimination against [unmarried] heterosexual couples.” He also asked how the government would be able to define and enforce who would qualify for the benefits.
The bill’s House sponsor — Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D.-Wis. — replied to Chaffetz’s concern about discrimination by pointing to the ability of heterosexual couples to marry and receive benefits. That is a “choice open to them but not to same-sex couples,” except in a few states, she said.
Baldwin and John Berry, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management, said the requirement that federal employees sign an affidavit would clarify who is eligible for benefits under the legislation. Filing a false claim could be punished by a fine of as much as $10,000 and a maximum five-year prison sentence, Baldwin said.
The legislation is needed in order to keep the federal government competitive in recruiting and retaining the best workers, Berry told the panel, which is under the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Enacting the bill is a “bottom-line business judgment,” Berry said. It will not “solve all problems” in competing against other employers, but it will be a “very powerful tool,” he said.
The cost of extending health benefits alone to the estimated 34,000 same-sex partners of federal employees would be $60.4 million in the first year, said Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. That would amount to a .41 percent increase in spending for health care, she said.
The bill “would put the federal government in the mainstream of modern compensation practices,” Badgett told the subcommittee. In her written testimony, Badgett cited the extent of employers that offer benefits to same-sex partners: 20 states; 250 cities, counties and other local government agencies; 83 percent of Fortune 100 firms; and nearly two-thirds of the Fortune 1000.
Baldwin and Berry — and at least two other witnesses — are open homosexuals. Both Baldwin and Berry said they have been with their partners for 13 years. Berry is the highest-ranking open homosexual in the administration.
Berry reiterated President Obama’s endorsement of the bill. The president expressed support for the measure, which is H.R. 2517, when he signed a memorandum June 17 extending benefits to homosexual partners of federal employees to the extent possible without congressional action.
On June 24, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., adopted a resolution, apparently unanimously, that expressed opposition to various federal policy proposals extending rights to homosexuals.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.