HRC Blog

Senator Durbin Introduces Legislation to Expand Family and Medical Leave

Today, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include protections for same-sex partners and spouses. The bill, the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act, is almost identical to legislation that has been introduced in the House for the past three congresses by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and is the first of its kind to be put forward in the Senate. The FMLA, a statute enacted in 1993, grants legally married spouses up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work to care for a seriously ill spouse, parent or child. However, the law does not cover same-sex partners or spouses, making it impossible for some employees to be with their partners during times of medical need. In introducing the bill, Senator Durbin remarked:

“I am proud to introduce the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act - a bill that takes a very good law and makes it even better by extending the important protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act to same-sex couples in America. This bill’s message is simple: all Americans are deserving of dignity and respect. I hope we can join together on a bipartisan basis to pass it.”

Today’s introduction is a welcome step forward to addressing the denial of one of more than 1,000 federal rights and benefits conditioned on marital status, and thus unavailable to same-sex couples because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Earlier this summer, the Department of Labor took another step toward equality for LGBT people under the FMLA when it issued guidance making clear that an LGBT individual acting as parent, even where he or she is unable to become the legal parent of a partner’s child, are able to take unpaid leave to care for that child or attend to his or her birth or adoption. In the meantime, states and corporate America have taken the lead on making sure all families have access to this critical protection, with nine states having adopted laws extending FMLA-like leave to same-sex couples, and, at last count, 461 employers providing such leave as an employee benefit. But for same-sex spouses and partners across the country to have access to FMLA leave, Congress must act to expand the law and protect LGBT families. We thank Senator Durbin for introducing this important legislation and for his long-standing commitment to LGBT equality.

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