Update from after the conference call, with info about DOMA and transgender nondiscrimination. Updates and White House press release after the jump.
Ben Smith is reporting that Obama will be issuing a memorandum to give some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. The general response from gay people has been disappointment - the benefits won't even include health care.
Reacting to a rising tide of anger from gay and lesbian supporters at a series of slights and deferred promises, President Obama will tomorrow extend some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
The move, which begins to mirror the policy of many large corporations, will have an immediate effect for many workers, but it is a deeply reactive response to a core Democratic group whose concerns have been festering for six months. The presidential memorandum -- scheduled for signing tomorrow at 5:45 p.m., may in the short term, give Joe Biden something positive to say at a June 25 fundraiser that has seen prominent guests drop out, a host sharply attack the administration, and which is expected to be marked by protests.
However, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from extending health and retirement benefits to same-sex couples, so the benefits are more likely to be marginal -- like relocation assistance.
Oh! Relocation assistance! Being denied that is really the center of gay oppression.
Well, yes, it's something, but I don't see why they had to wait until June to do this.
The Religious Right is reacting predictably:
FRC: President Obama Violates the Letter If Not the Spirit of DOMA
President Obama's expected Executive Order extending benefits to homosexual partners appears to be a violation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and clearly violates the spirit of the federal law which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. In 1996, DOMA passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate and was then signed by President Clinton.
President Obama's planned Executive Order uses taxpayer money to placate an angry portion of his base at the expense of the rule of law. Ironically, Mr. Obama has pursued an aggressive pro-homosexual agenda - but his actions to date are, apparently, insufficient for the radical homosexuals pushing their extreme demands.
This order raises the question of whether the President has the authority to ignore DOMA and bypass the legislative process. We will review the order and confer with our legal counsel to determine an appropriate response. President Obama is clearly using this executive order to single out a single group for special preferences.
However, beyond the potential legal violations, it's troubling that the President would act in response to homosexual groups which are threatening to withdraw from an upcoming fundraiser. Rather than placing politics above the law, he should abide by the Defense of Marriage Act and fulfill his oath to 'faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.'
Way to get upset, FRC, before Obama's even signed the memo (they didn't even get the fact that it's not an executive order correct). But of course their heads are exploding; they're used to being the vocal, lockstep constituency that gets its way all the time. Maybe the times are changing.
I don't know how far he'll go because of DOMA, which doesn't really give the White House much leeway when it comes to benefits for same-sex partners. I'd expect court cases to come out of this memo from folks like Tony Perkins and the ADF.
Which is why DOMA should just be taken off the table legislatively. No one's going to get around it in the executive and I doubt the courts will repeal it. It's a battle in Congress, and that's the hardest one of all for LGBT issues.
Update: Pat Robertson links relocation benefits to the end of America.
What are the chances someone on the right will take matters in his own hand to prevent America from going into the "garbage heap of history"? Post-Tiller, it seems irresponsible to be making pronouncements like that.
just got off the conference call with the director of the Office of Personnel Management John Berry, who's also openly gay. There was plenty of mainstream media on the line (ABC, USA Today, LA Times), so expect some print and TV coverage of this issue and this memo.
He discussed the memo at some length (press release below) and stressed that this is part of an "internal review" that was conducted at the OPM and at the Department of the State that started at the beginning of the Obama Administration to search for benefits that could be extended to same-sex partners that wouldn't violate DOMA. Lots of benefits will be extended, but not health care and retirement benefits. He said those would require legislative action.
A few interesting points.
First, he was careful to stress that the memo is "not in response to any outside pressure." Berry said that the policy changes took "analysis and care on them" and preparation for the changes has been "underway for many months." In other words, he wanted to make the point clear that the White House was not buckling to pressure exerted this week because of the DOJ DOMA brief. That's fair enough, he was discussing these benefits with the Advocate before the brief came out.
Second, he was asked about the timeline for DOMA, and replied:
Anybody who works in Washington who tells you a specific timeline is kidding you. A timeline is when you get 218 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate.
So, there ya go. No news on when the White House will start lobbying Congress to move on the DOMA, but he mentioned earlier in the conference that while there are enough votes for hate crimes legislation, there aren't enough for DOMA, DADT, and ENDA.
Third, John Aravosis asked him what's actually changing with these guidelines. Federal employment is already supposed to be based on merit, not on factors unrelated to job performance. Aravosis mentioned a woman who worked for the federal government who got leave to take care of her same-sex partner.
Berry responded that previously such benefits to gay employees was "subject to whim of the supervisor." They were optional, and now they'll be mandatory.
Fourth, I got a question in and wanted to know about protections for trans people mentioned in the Advocate. Since Berry mentioned several times that only job-related factors will now be considered in federal employment, and said how sexual orientation isn't included in that several times, I asked if the new directions will specifically mention gender identity, gender expression, and/or transgender people. He responded:
Gender identity is a non-work-related factor, and in the guidelines [to federal agencies] we will be making that clear.[...] Gender identity will be added and made very clear in our guidelines.
That's at least one positive out of this memo: specifically mentioning transgender people when it comes to federal employment.
Berry also acknowledged that this isn't an end:
This is a first step, not a final step. This is an attempt to get our federal house in order. It's an example of practicing before preaching and the administrations is taking bold steps to move forward.
Here's the press release with more details.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 17, 2009
Fact Sheet: Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination
In an Oval Office event later today, President Barack Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination. The Memorandum follows a review by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management ant the Secretary of State regarding what benefits may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees in the civil service and the foreign service within the confines of existing federal laws and statutes.
Over the past several months, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management and the Secretary of State have conducted internal reviews to determine whether the benefits they administer may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees within the confines of existing laws and statutes. Both identified a number of such benefits.
For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children. For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations.
The Presidential Memorandum to be signed today will request that the Director of OPM and the Secretary of State act to extend to same-sex partners of federal employees the benefits they have identified. The Memorandum will also request the heads of all other executive branch departments and agencies to conduct internal reviews to determine whether other benefits they administer might be similarly extended, and to report the results of those reviews to the Director of OPM.
The Memorandum will also direct OPM to issue guidance within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil service laws, which make it unlawful to discriminate against federal employees or applicants for federal employment on the basis of factors not related to job performance.