|Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT)
introduced a bill into the United States Senate last month to
require the federal government to extend health, dental, vision,
and retirement benefits to domestic partners of federal
employees. Senate Bill 3955 is known as the Domestic
Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act.
The bill is co-sponsored by
Republican Senators Gordon Smith and Lincoln Chafee and several
notable Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and
The Senate proposal is virtually
a mirror image of House Bill 3267 which was introduced last year
by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA). The primary
difference between the two bills is that the Frank measure would
have included opposite-sex couples as well as same-sex couples
in its definition of "domestic partners," while the Lieberman
bill is limited to gay couples.
Lieberman co-sponsored a similar
bill (S. 1252) in 2003, with the exception that it included all
domestic partners regardless of their gender or sexual
orientation. This bill was patterned after a 1999 Barney
Frank measure (H.R. 2859) which, by its express terms, included
same and opposite-sex partners.
When I first reviewed the Barney
Frank bill in 1999, I became very suspicious that the author's
intentions were to make it easy to dump unmarried heterosexual
partners from future federal benefits reform proposals if that
became necessary to gain co-sponsors in the House or to
stimulate similar legislation in the Senate.
In his 1999 benefits bill, and in
all subsequent versions of it, Frank included a clause which
defined "domestic partners" in paragraph "A" as same-sex
domestic partners and in paragraph "B" as opposite-sex domestic
partners. As long as both paragraphs were included, the
result was an inclusive bill for all domestic partners,
regardless of gender.
At first glance, I thought it was
odd to have to two clauses like these, when it would have been
much easier to exclude all reference to the sex of the partners
and just refer to two unmarried adults. But then my
cynicism clicked in and I began to smell a rat.
Did Barney Frank, the champion of
gay rights in Congress, really want to see inclusive domestic
partner benefits for the domestic partners of all federal
workers? Or was his primary, if not sole, concern to get
benefits for the partners of gay and lesbian federal workers?
My intuition told me that Frank was holding his nose, so to
speak, when he crafted his first domestic partner benefits bill
to make it appear to include same and opposite-sex partners.
When the first two Senate
versions of the benefits bill were introduced, and both included
a clause "A" for same-sex partners and a clause "B" for
opposite-sex partners, my suspicions intensified. I
wondered how long it would take for clause "B" to disappear.
I now have the answer. Not
It is interesting to see would-be
presidential hopefuls, such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry,
co-sponsoring the bill which dropped unmarried heterosexual
partners from federal benefits reform. Could it be that
they want their cake and eat it too by projecting an image of
being a conservative liberal?
My intuition says the Democratic
National Committee (DNC)is advising high-profile Democratic
candidates to support domestic partnership benefits measures
limited to same-sex couples. The theory would be that
offering benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples might be
characterized by their Republican opponents as undermining
marriage. Since same-sex couples can't legally marry under
federal law, giving them equal benefits theoretically won't
The DNC itself made a policy
decision years ago to give benefits to the same-sex partners of
its employees. It rejected suggestions from at least one
major benefactor to expand the benefits to the partners of its
unmarried heterosexual employees.
Howard Dean, former Governor of
Vermont and current head of the DNC, is no stranger to this
issue. As Governor, he signed legislation limiting "civil
union" benefits to same-sex partners, which had the result of
forcing heterosexuals in Vermont to marry in order to gain
All of this may be academic for
the next two years, however, since it is unlikely that President
George Bush would sign a domestic partner benefits bill for
federal employees during the remainder of his term in office.
The only real progress which may
occur prior to the 2008 federal elections may be committee
hearings in the Senate and the House focusing on benefits for
federal employees. During such hearings I suspect that the
public will learn that the real concern of the proponents of
these bills is to gain equal benefits for Gay America, not
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and