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Obama signs memorandum on federal benefits and non-discrimination
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Obama signs memorandum on federal benefits and non-discrimination

Obama signs memorandum on federal benefits and non-discrimination by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination June 17. The memorandum follows a review by the director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, who is the highest-ranking Gay official in the Obama administration, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The memo outlined what benefits may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees in the civil service and the foreign service within the confines of existing federal laws and statutes.

Obama signed the memorandum amid growing anger from the LGBT community who believe the president has not made good on campaign rhetoric to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," among other issues important to the Gay movement.

"Well, today I'm proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation's pursuit of equality," Obama said. "It's a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this in only one step. Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it's discriminatory, I think it interferes with states' rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it."

Obama said that many of the 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 they love are of the same sex.

Over the past several month Obama asked Clinton and Berry to conduct interviews to determine whether the benefits they administer may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees with the confines of existing laws and statutes. Both identified a number of such benefits.

Now, civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term health care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children. For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion of family size for housing allocations.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organizations, has worked with the president's transition team since the election and White House staff since the inauguration to provide them with substantive steps they can take to advance LGBT equality. HRC President Joe Solmonese released a statement saying, "Today's presidential memorandum committing to a federal workplace free from discrimination, including the extension of some benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers, is a welcome and long-overdue step toward bringing the government's policies closer in line with what America's largest companies understand is good for business. Today's presidential signature is the first brick in paving what is a long path toward equality for LGBT Americans. We commend President Obama and his administration for taking this beginning step to level the playing field, but we look forward to working with him to repeal DOMA, overturn 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and guarantee the entire American workforce is free from discrimination."

The president said that now, under current law, "we cannot provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. That's why I'm proud to announce my support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, crucial legislation that will guarantee these rights for all federal employees."

He said the administration has more work to do to ensure that government treats all it's citizens equally; to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms; and to bring about a more perfect union.

"I'm commited to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come."

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