President Barack Obama is caught between a rock and a hard place as to whether the government is required to provide health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, according to a report in the New York Times.
A California federal appeals court has ruled that employees of their court are entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners. However, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has instructed insurers not to provide the benefits ordered by the court.
OPM cites a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act.
In correspondence to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Lorraine E. Dettman, assistant director of the personnel office, wrote, “Plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program may not provide coverage for domestic partners, or legally married partners of the same sex, even though recognized by state law.”
Dettman added that the 1996 law stipulates that “the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
Meanwhile, the sensitive insurance coverage issue gathered more steam as it was raised in a lawsuit filed against the federal government last week in Boston by eight same-sex couples. In that case, federal employees claim they were denied equal compensation when their partners were denied health benefits.
The rub, of course, is that candidate Obama promised he would “fight hard” for the rights of gay couples. What’s more, as a senator, he sponsored legislation that would have provided health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
The Times report concludes that in coming down on one side or the other, Obama has a Hobson’s choice between alienating liberal groups that helped him win election and agitating Republicans with whom he is seeks a détente for pushing through his legislative agenda.
So far, administration officials declined to say what they planned to do in the California cases if the judges attempt to enforce their orders through contempt proceedings.
The White House is thus far sitting on the fence. White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said: “While the president opposes gay marriage, he supports legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. He believes this country must realize its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”
Congress might yet ride to the rescue. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, plan to introduce bills that would provide benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
Such legislation is not new. It has been introduced before without success.
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