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Obama does a little, promises more for gay workers
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-19 10:17

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Wednesday extended limited job benefits to gay partners of US government workers in what he called a first step to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Obama does a little, promises more for gay workers

Under pressure from gay rights groups, Obama urged Congress to pass legislation that would extend full healthcare and retirement benefits to gay families in the 1.9 million-strong federal workforce, as many US businesses already do.

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"Many of our government's hardworking and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoyed for one simple reason: the people that they love are of the same sex," Obama said before signing an order to extend benefits for federal workers' gay partners.

"It's a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step."

Obama's announcement showed that his administration may focus more on incremental, tangible gains for gays and lesbians, rather than wading directly into the divisive gay marriage debate that has played out at the state level.

Gay rights groups called Wednesday's move a welcome first step but said that they would continue to press the administration to outlaw workplace discrimination and extend benefits for same-sex couples.

"Those things should happen today, should have happened yesterday and they haven't and until they do there's going to be a frustration," said Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group.

The memo that Obama signed on Wednesday will open up the government's long-term care insurance to gay partners of federal employees; allow federal employees to use their sick leave to care for a gay partner or the partner's children.

It would also allow gay partners of foreign-service employees to use medical facilities at overseas posts and get evacuated if necessary; include same-sex partners and their children when calculating family size for overseas housing allocations and extend current anti-discrimination rules in the federal workforce to cover transgender employees.

Obama did not back gay marriage during the 2008 campaign, but he did promise to repeal a 1996 law that prevents the government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The administration will work with Congress to repeal that law, the Defense of Marriage Act, and extend workplace-discrimination laws to cover gays, said John Berry, head of the US Office of Personnel Management.