Obama’s Action Will Establish Same-Sex Benefits As ‘Litmus Test’ Of Desirable Employment

President Obama’s decision Wednesday to extend benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees will establish such benefits as a “litmus test for determining high quality employers,” according to the manager of the federal workforce.

The president’s decision to extend benefits to the gay partners of civilian federal workers comes as he and Democrats in Congress are moving ahead with legislation to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military. Repeal of the policy would mean gays could, for the first time, serve in uniform and be open about their sexuality.

Obama’s memorandum Wednesday direct federal agencies to extend a host of benefits to their employees’ same-sex domestic partners. The benefits to be extended include, among others, access to day care for the children of employees’ domestic partners, travel and relocation allowances, and access to employee assistance programs, according to a statement issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which manages the federal civilian workforce of 1.9 million.

Obama cannot extend other benefits, such as health insurance or retirement benefits, on his own. Those require legislative changes such as those proposed in the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which Obama supports.

OPM Director John Berry, in turn, issued a memorandum of his own issuing guidance to implement Obama’s new policy.

“This is another major step forward for gay and lesbian federal employees. But it’s also a good business practice — this will help us retain valuable employees and better compete with other employers for top talent,” says Berry. “President Obama has stated clearly that this is an issue of equality. But just as important, youth today, [gay] or not, see these benefits as a litmus test for determining high quality employers.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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