Obama Extending Federal Benefits to Same-Sex Partners

June 17, 2009 - 4:26 AM
President Obama plans to announce his decision Wednesday in the Oval Office.

President Barack Obama during a joint news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, not shown, on Tuesday, June 16, 2009, in the White House Rose Garden. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington (AP) - President Barack Obama, whose gay and lesbian supporters have grown frustrated with his slow movement on their priorities, is extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, a White House official said.
 
Obama plans to announce his decision Wednesday in the Oval Office, the official said Tuesday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president hadn't yet signed the presidential memorandum.
 
The official said Obama would release more details Wednesday.
 
The decision is a political nod to a reliably Democratic voting bloc that has become impatient with the White House in recent weeks.
 
Several powerful gay fundraisers withdrew their support from a June 25 Democratic National Committee event where Vice President Joe Biden is expected to speak. Their exit came in response to a June 12 Justice Department brief that defended the Defense of Marriage Act, a prime target for gay and lesbian criticism.
 
Gays and lesbians also fretted as the White House declined to intervene in the cases of enlisted military members facing courts martial for defying the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policies. White House officials say they want Congress to repeal the policy as part of a "lasting and durable" solution, instead of intervening on individual cases.
 
"The president agreed that ... the policy wasn't working for our national interests, that he committed to change that policy, that he's working with the secretary of defense and the joint chiefs on making that happen," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last month.
 
In the meantime, the administration has tried to make small, quiet moves to extend benefits to gays and lesbians. The State Department has promised to give partners of gay and lesbian diplomats many benefits, such as diplomatic passports and language training.
 
But without a specific change in the Federal Employees' Health Benefits Program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's promises left out financial benefits such as pensions. Obama's move could make that shift.
 
Richard Socarides, a New York attorney and former senior adviser on gay rights issues to President Bill Clinton, was taking a wait-and-see attitude on Obama's announcement.
 
"If it doesn't include health insurance, if he doesn't talk about the military and about the (Justice Department) brief, I think it will fall short," Socarides said in an e-mail late Tuesday. "Right now, people are looking for real action."
 
John Berry, head of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking gay official in the administration, told a gay rally last weekend that Obama planned to take action on benefits soon.