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WASHINGTON (RNS) President Obama signed an executive order Wednesday (June 17) expanding benefits available to same-sex partners of federal employees, a move that was not unexpected but nonetheless criticized by social conservative groups.
“Many of our government’s hard-working, dedicated, and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason — the people that they love are of the same sex,” Obama said in an Oval Office ceremony.
The measure does not offer same-sex couples the same health or retirement benefits as married heterosexual couples, and so falls short of the mark that gay activists seek. However, Obama promised future steps toward gay rights, including ending the ban on gays in the military.
Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, issued a statement before the order was signed, saying the memorandum “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.”
That federal law, known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996. Obama noted that because DOMA defines marriage between a man and a woman, the White House cannot yet enact the full range of benefits for same-sex couples that heterosexual, married couples receive.
The order does provide same-sex partners of civilian employees with long-term care insurance, emergency visitation rights, and equal access to medical facilities, as well as allowing sick leave for employees to care for a same-sex partner or their children.
Many Fortune 500 companies already offer such benefits for same-sex couples, Obama noted, and said the extension will help the Federal Government be competitive with retaining and recruiting workers.
Obama called DOMA ‘discriminatory’ and he publicly supported the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, which would provide equal benefits to gay and lesbian civil servants.
“It’s a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step,” he said.
By Tiffany Stanley
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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