Obama to Extend Array of Marriage Benefits to Gay Couples

The New York TimesJune 20, 2014 

— The federal government Friday will extend a wide range of marriage benefits to same-sex couples, making good on a promise by President Barack Obama after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

After decades of blocking gay married couples from receiving the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts, most federal agencies will now treat married couples alike, regardless of gender. The changes in regulations across the federal government will be announced Friday.

The action is important, officials said, because of differences in how states treat same-sex marriage. Without the regulatory changes, gay couples could be blocked from receiving federal benefits in states that do not recognize their marriages. Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

“In almost all instances, federal benefits and obligations for same-sex married couples will be provided, regardless of where the couple lives,” a White House official said late Thursday before the agencies’ formal announcements.

Under the changes, same-sex spouses of Defense Department employees will receive all the benefits of heterosexual husbands and wives. Federal immigration law will apply equally to gay and straight married couples. The Internal Revenue Service will recognize the marriages of all gay couples. The spouses of gay federal employees will get health insurance, life insurance and flexible spending accounts.

In addition, federal employees will be able to take leave to care for a same-sex spouse, something that has long been limited to heterosexual married couples.

The actions are the latest examples of Obama’s embrace of equality for same-sex couples following what he called his evolution on the issue. A politician who once opposed same-sex marriage, Obama said two years ago that his position had changed.

“At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told Robin Roberts of ABC News in May 2012.

Since then, Obama has aggressively sided with advocates of same-sex marriage and other gay rights. His administration argued in the Supreme Court for the Defense of Marriage Act to be overturned, and his administration argued that the court should strike down Proposition 8, the California ban on same-sex marriage. He also eliminated the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay service members.

At a New York gala for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people Tuesday, Obama hailed the rights that were extended to gays and lesbians in the past year, saying, “If we’re truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

“This is a country where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or how you came up, or what your last name is, or who you love - if you work hard and you take responsibility, you should be able to make it,” Obama said. “That’s the story of America. That’s the story of this movement.”

While he was at the event, Obama announced that he had directed his staff to develop an executive order that would ban federal contractors from discriminating in hiring decisions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And he vowed to keep pressuring Congress to pass a law that would extend those protections to all workers.

Officials said that most of Friday’s announcements would not require legislation. But they said that a small number of provisions in federal law explicitly prohibit the government from providing benefits to same-sex couples. The officials said the president would call on Congress to pass legislation to change those provisions.

At the gala, Obama criticized Congress for failing to act on a broader anti-discrimination law to protect workers in all industries.

“This seems to be a pattern these days,” he said. “Everybody has just given up so much on Congress that we end up doing something through executive order. And that’s helpful, but it doesn’t reach everybody that needs to be reached. Congress needs to start working again, so let’s make sure that we keep the pressure up there.”

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