Federal employee benefits extended to same-sex couples

Obama Holder Biden WH.jpg

The Office of Personnel Management announced in a Friday memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies the extension of various federal benefits to same-sex couples and their families, signaling the federal government’s swift movement to implement the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, and it is impossible to answer today every question that you may have,” OPM Acting Director Elaine Kaplan wrote in the memo. “Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the Court’s ruling.”

The memo states the changes will apply to “all legally married same-sex spouses,” and specifically mentions the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, life insurance, dental and vision insurance, long-term care insurance, retirement benefits and flexible spending accounts.

The repeated mention of “all legally married same-sex couples” comes one day after President Barack Obama said he believes the DOMA decision should apply to all lawfully married same-sex couples, including those who now live in states that do not recognize their marriages. 

“It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a President as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple,” Obama said during a Thursday press conference in Senegal. 

In a statement, President Obama addressed the extension of benefits to federal employees, stating, “This is a critical first step toward implementing this week’s landmark Supreme Court decision declaring that all married couples –gay and straight — should be treated equally under federal law. Thousands of gays and lesbians serve our country every day in the federal government. They, and their spouses and children, deserve the same respect and protection as every other family. Under the leadership of Attorney General Holder, we will continue to move as quickly as possible to fully implement the Court’s decision.”

Attorney General Eric Holder also issued a statement, describing the move as a “historic step toward equality for all American families” “only the beginning.”

“These initial changes in federal benefits will make a meaningful, positive difference in the lives of many. But this is only the beginning,” Holder said. “As the President directed, the Department of Justice will continue to coordinate with other federal agencies to implement this ruling as swiftly and smoothly as possible. I look forward to sharing additional information as it becomes available. We will never stop fighting to ensure equality, opportunity, and – above all – justice for everyone in this country.”

[Editor’s Note: This post as been updates to include statements from President Obama and Attorney General Holder.]

[Photo: Barack Obama (left), Eric Holder and Joe Biden (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)]

Read the OPM memo here:

OPM Memo-Same Sex Spouse Benefits

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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