Gay Couples Express Hope Over Benefits Extension

The Washington Post
June 18, 2009
The presidential memorandum signed yesterday afternoon by President Obama extends some benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers, among other things allowing them to be included in the long-term-care insurance program. But it still leaves them without federal health and retirement benefits. That will require the passage of legislation now before Congress. Nonetheless, Obama's order has cheered Candy Holmes, an information technology manager at the Government Accountability Office, and left her optimistic that more change is coming. "Hopeful. Excited," she said of her mood yesterday. "Wanting to believe this is the beginning of equality." [Link]

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Outcry on Federal Same-Sex Benefits

The New York Times
June 17, 2009
The package of domestic partnership benefits that President Obama established for federal workers on Wednesday drew the loudest protests from some of those it was intended to help, gay men and lesbians who criticized the move as too timid. The administrative memorandum extending some partnership rights to federal workers in same-sex relationships, which Mr. Obama signed late Wednesday, allows administration personnel to take leave to care for sick partners and requires the government to recognize their partners as household members when determining overseas housing allocations for State Department employees, among other things. But several of the nation’s most prominent gay and lesbian political leaders quickly attacked the president for failing to extend full health care benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers, questioning the administration’s explanation that it is precluded from doing so by the Defense of Marriage Act, which Mr. Obama had vowed to repeal during his presidential campaign. [Link]

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Editorial: Benefits for Same-Sex Partners

The New York Times
June 17, 2009
President Obama’s decision to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees is a victory for fairness in the workplace. It is a serious omission, however, that his new policy does not include health and retirement benefits, which heterosexual married employees receive. Since benefits are an important part of employment compensation, gay people are effectively being paid less than their heterosexual peers for doing the same work. The strong symbolism of the president’s move cannot be denied. Still, it is impossible to ignore how much of the glass is not full. The Defense of Marriage Act — which prohibits the federal government from treating same-sex relationships as marriages, and allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states — needs to be repealed. [Link]

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U.S. to Extend Its Job Benefits to Gay Partners

The New York Times
June 16, 2009
President Obama will sign a presidential memorandum on Wednesday to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, administration officials said Tuesday evening, but he will stop short of pledging full health insurance coverage. Mr. Obama, in an Oval Office announcement, is expected to offer details about which benefits will be provided. It is the most significant statement he has made on gay issues, and it comes as he faces intense criticism from several gay rights leaders over what they suggest has been a failure to live up to campaign promises in the first months of his presidency. “Extending benefits to partners of gay federal employees is terrific, but at this point he is under enormous pressure from the gay civil rights community for having promised the moon and done nothing so far,” Richard Socarides, an adviser to the Clinton administration on gay issues, said Tuesday evening. “So more important now is what he says tomorrow about the future for gay people during his presidency.” [Link]

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How Hospitals Treat Same-Sex Couples

New York Times
Well Blog
May 12, 2009
During a medical emergency, a patient’s husband, wife, parents or other family members often are close by, overseeing treatment, making medical decisions and keeping vigil at the bedside. But what happens if the hospital won’t allow you to stay with your partner or child? That’s the challenge many same-sex couples face during health care emergencies when hospital security personnel, administrators and even doctors and nurses exclude them from a patient’s room because they aren’t “real” family members. [link]

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TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Equality is a Labor Value

Guest Blogger: Mary Kay Henry

The fight for the freedom to marry is dear to me, for safeguarding my own partnership and for realizing the same goals of social and economic justice that we advance every day at SEIU and in the labor movement.

I have worked for thirty years to ensure that health caregivers--nurses, technicians, ambulance drivers, home care workers--can do their jobs safely giving high-quality service to people in their communities while having a say in their working lives and their government.

Even in hard economic times, the health care sector continues to add jobs. And even though caregivers’ votes, along with those of other working people, have won elections--even though we have put important allies in power, such as President Obama--caregivers don’t have as decisive a voice as we might want in our economy or in establishing and protecting equal rights at the federal and state level.

But through SEIU, the conscience of caregivers and working families speaks loudly and clearly. We are the largest union in North America, uniting more than 2 million members. Five years ago, at our International Convention in 2004, we made winning equal rights and benefits for all our members a priority in bargaining and legislative campaigns at every level of our union.

We passed a resolution supporting marriage equality. In it, we committed to opposing any laws and constitutional amendments that deny equal rights. We will continue to stand against any campaign or candidate who uses antigay, anti-union, anti-worker policies as a wedge to divide our communities or states.

In the past year, we made good on these commitments on several fronts, including the landmark quest to gain, preserve, and now win back marriage equality in California. We cheered the court ruling for equal marriage in Connecticut, and we will assist in future drives to secure and defend this indispensable form of equal protection.

My union’s motto, “stronger together,” applies not simply to the strength that health caregivers and other workers enjoy by joining forces through a union. It applies to our union’s broader vision of a nation that includes, respects, and rewards each worker, where a CEO and a nursing home caregiver are equal under the law and where our founding ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not a promise for the few, but rather a contract with every American that we work as one to make good for all.

We hope that as we walk forward together, you will find opportunities to add your voice to our own for workers’ freedom to form a union in a climate without coercion or intimidation. It is in this spirit of shared values and timely collaboration that I am proud to support Freedom to Marry in its fight for marriage equality.

***Mary Kay Henry is an International Executive Vice President of SEIU and a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality. SEIU is the largest and fastest growing union in North America. She is the leader of the SEIU Healthcare Division and has devoted her life to helping America's health caregivers form unions, improve their jobs and the quality of care, and advocate for a more rational and humane health care system. She is a founding member of SEIU's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lavender Caucus.

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