Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama To Extend Federal Benefits to Gay Employees

Sounds like PR damage control 101 in the White House. President Obama is to announce tomorrow at 5:45PM EST that he will be extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Though under different circumstances, we would feel grateful, but this hurried announcement after the DOJ's dehumanizing defense of DOMA and the Administration's refusal to act on Don't Ask Don't Tell, it feels like we're being thrown a bone, despite the fact that the Administration may have had this planned for Pride Month.

This isn't even one of the eight Obama campaign promises to the LGBT population.

But even more to the point, the timing sounds like a ploy to keep major donors from canceling on the 10th Annual LGBT Leadership Council Dinner, an LGBT DNC fundraiser coming up. Already, the HRC, Empire Pride Agenda and other big donors announced today they have pulled out. It appears I'm not alone on this thought.

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.

Former top aide to President Clinton and attorney Richard Socarides said, "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 to the AP late Tuesday. "Right now, people are looking for real action."

The Advocate reports that the White House press office didn't give details on the benefits.

Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal Globe: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government told them, "Our analysis has been that it will take an act of Congress for the full suite of benefits such as health benefits and retirement benefits to be provided for same-sex couples and families."

According to Hirsch, the executive branch has the authority to extend certain other benefits through departments and agencies, such as providing relocation costs for partners of federal employees.

Again, under different circumstances, I would be thrilled to receive this news, but now it just feels like a placating pat on the head and backhanded attempt to keep LGBT money flowing.

I'm sorry. Not to sound ungrateful, but after such grave offenses from the Administration, it's going to take much more than this to get me to open my wallet. Oh wait, or was this an attempt to curry favor? I'm confused.

But no matter what the reason or what may have been planned, it appears the Administration is feeling the pressure. History shows that pressure is the key to winning equal rights. Let's keep it up.

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