Administration Says Obama Can Extend Federal Benefits to Homosexual Couples Despite Defense of Marriage Act

By Fred Lucas | June 17, 2009 | 6:47 PM EDT

White House ( – President Barack Obama’s move to grant new benefits to homosexual partners of federal employees is only a first step, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president is pushing for Congress to pass legislation allowing greater benefits.

But opponents of the move believe it could still be in violation of the law under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The presidential memorandum that Obama signed Wednesday in the Oval Office came after several months of review by John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who conducted internal reviews to determine whether benefits can extend to same-sex partners of federal employees.

“This pushes long overdue progress in the nation’s journey to equality,” Berry, said in a conference call Wednesday. Berry is the highest ranking homosexual appointee in the administration, according to the White House. “People have been denied certain benefits for one simple reason: Because the people they love are of the same sex.”

The benefits do not extend to health care and retirement, which the administration determined could not be done under DOMA, but provide long-term care insurance and requires supervisors to allow employees to use sick leave to take care of homosexual partners and family members of their partners.

For Foreign Service employees, benefits such as medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad and inclusion in family housing will be required.

“This can be done within the confines of DOMA,” Berry said.

The memo also orders the OPM to issue guidance within 90 days to all executive branch departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil service laws, which make it unlawful to discriminate against employees or applicants for federal employment on the basis of non-job-related factors.

DOMA law, approved by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, specifically says, “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.”

Obama's order comes just days after homosexual activists lambasted the administration because the Solicitor General's office defended the constitutionality of DOMA in a California court filing. 

“The Administration apparently determined that it had a duty to defend DOMA in the courts. The President has just as strong a duty to put his principles into action, and end discrimination against LGBT people and our families,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the homosexual advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. “We call on the President to send legislation repealing DOMA to Congress,” he added.

The timing was entirely political and a use of federal tax dollars to quell a core constituency group, said Wendy Wright, president of the conservative Concerned Women for America.

"Barack Obama's order demeans marriage and misuses taxpayer dollars. It violates the intent of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines for the federal government that marriage (and thus all the benefits that come with marriage) is only between a man and a woman,” said Wright. “It generates untold costs and creates an incentive for fraud. Workers could claim anyone of the same sex is a 'partner' or seek coverage for multiple serial partners."

This is only the first step, Gibbs said Wednesday, adding that Obama supported repealing DOMA and the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for the military since he was a candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois.

To extend full employee benefits such as health care, it would require a change in the law, Gibbs said.

“That requires not an executive order or presidential memorandum but a change in the law,” Gibbs said. “That is part of what he promised with the repeal of DOMA.”