Senate Takes Significant Step With Domestic Partnership Benefits Bill

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"Senate Takes Significant Step With Domestic Partnership Benefits Bill"

Our guest blogger is Ben Harris, intern for LGBT Progress.

Yesterday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed legislation that extends health insurance and other benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.  Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the bill, called the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act, which if passed into law would extend health insurance and a number of other workplace benefits to federal employees and their same-sex partners.

Because of discriminatory laws like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), gay federal employees do not have full access to benefits currently afforded to straight federal employees and their spouses. Without access to health insurance through their partners, many gay individuals must either purchase costly insurance plans in the private market or forgo health insurance, a considerable financial risk should be they become seriously ill. Yesterday, the Senate committee advanced a bill that would significantly alleviate that risk and bolster economic security for gay couples in the federal workforce.

Passing this bill out of committee is long overdue. Not only does this mean equal treatment for gay employees in the federal workforce, it also ensures that we attract the best and brightest workers into public service. When it was introduced back in November, Senator Collins remarked :

COLLINS: This change is both fair policy and good business practice. The federal government must compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting the most qualified, skilled, and dedicated employees. Today, health, medical, and other benefits are a major component of any competitive employment package. Indeed, private sector employers are increasingly offering these kinds of benefits as standard fare.

She’s right. Eighty-six percent of Fortune 100 companies offer equal health care benefits to employees with same-sex partners, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And research shows that when you treat gay workers equally on the job, what results is a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

Some, like Governor Rick Snyder (R) of Michigan, who recently vetoed a bill to extend domestic partner benefits to state employees, oppose equality in the workplace because they say it costs too much. They’re wrong . The take-up rate for domestic partner benefits is extremely low and it is likely that the boon from attracting a more talented and productive workforce outweighs any costs of providing equal benefits to gay couples.

What’s more, passing laws that extend workplace benefits to gay employees is politically popular. A whopping 8 in 10 Americans believe gay employees should be given equal benefits on the job. Even Mitt Romney agrees. Just last week, after restating his opposition to marriage equality, he voiced his support : “My view is that domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate.”

Conservatives and corporations should take a cue from the American people: workplace equality is critical to fostering a more efficient and effective government.

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