President Barack Obama, under growing criticism for not seeking to end the ban on openly gay men and women in the military, is extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Obama plans to announce his decision on Wednesday in the Oval Office, a White House official said Tuesday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president hadn’t yet signed the presidential memorandum.
Several powerful gay fundraisers withdrew their support from a June 25 Democratic National Committee event where Vice President Joe Biden is expected to speak. Their exit came in response to a June 12 Justice Department brief that defended the Defense of Marriage Act, a prime target for gay and lesbian criticism. Justice lawyers argued that the law allowed states to reject marriages performed in other states or countries that defy their own standards.
The legal arguments — including citing incest and sex with minors — sparked rebellion among gay and lesbian activists who had been largely biting their tongues since Obama won election.
Obama is scheduled to sign an executive order at the White House today. The concession comes amid expressions of disappointment that Obama has not yet tackled the ban on gay people serving openly in the military.
On the campaign trail, Obama also disappointed the gay community by backing only civil unions and not same-sex marriage.
The White House is following the lead of the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who extended benefits to the partners of gay people working in her department.
The state department has promised to give partners of gay and lesbian diplomats many benefits, such as diplomatic passports and language training.
But without a specific change in the federal employees’ health benefits programme, Hillary Clinton’s promises left out financial benefits such as pensions. Obama’s move could make that shift.