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Senate panel OKs gay partners bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–A U.S. Senate committee has approved a bill that would extend benefits now reserved for the spouses of federal employees to the same-sex, domestic partners of such workers.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted Dec. 16 to forward the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, S. 1102, to the full Senate. The panel vote was 8-1, with Sen. Robert Bennett, R.-Utah, the lone dissenter.

The proposal would bestow on homosexual partners of federal employees benefits normally given to married spouses, such as health insurance, retirement and disability benefits, group life insurance, and family and medical leave.

The action in the Senate followed by four weeks the approval of similar legislation by a House of Representatives committee. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 23-12 on Nov. 18 for H.R. 2517, which has the same title as the Senate version.

Critics have charged the proposal is an indirect attack on the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing “same-sex marriages” and gives states the option to refuse to recognize such unions from another state. They also have said it would add an unknown fiscal burden to taxpayers and would promote discrimination against unmarried heterosexual couples. The legislation would cover only homosexual partners, not unmarried heterosexual ones.

Supporters of the measure have defended the measure as a remedy to discrimination against homosexual couples and a necessary aid in the federal government’s recruitment of the best workers. They contend cuts could be made in the federal budget to cover the costs incurred by expanded coverage.

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land has criticized the proposal.

“Most Southern Baptists believe that the only relationship that should be defined by its sexual nature and should have special benefits accrued to it is heterosexual marriage,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Thus, we oppose granting domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, as well as heterosexual couples who are living together outside of marriage.”

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting in June approved, in what appeared to be a unanimous vote via a show of ballots, a resolution that expressed opposition to a variety of federal policy proposals that would extend special rights to homosexuals.

Former SBC President Frank Page testified against the domestic partners legislation before a House subcommittee in July. Page was pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., at the time. He now is vice president of the North American Mission Board’s evangelization group.

The bill’s cost for health care alone in the first year would be $63 million, according to the testimony of University of Massachusetts-Amherst economics professor Lee Badgett before the House subcommittee.

Employers that offer benefits to same-sex partners include 20 states; 250 cities, counties and other local government agencies; 83 percent of Fortune 100 firms, and nearly two-thirds of the Fortune 1000, Badgett said.

President Obama endorsed the bill in June when he signed a memorandum extending benefits to homosexual partners of federal employees to the extent possible without congressional action.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I.-Conn., is the sponsor of the Senate bill. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D.-Wis., an open lesbian, is the sponsor of the House bill. The House measure has 138 cosponsors, while the Senate version has 26.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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