WASHINGTON - On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a historic hearing to consider the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, S. 2521, which would provide equal family benefits to LGBT federal civilian employees. Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) lent their full support to the bill, noting that over 56% of Fortune 500 companies and 16 state governments provide such benefits.
Although the federal Office of Personnel Management was formally neutral on the bill at the start of the hearing, and its witness-Howard Weitzman, Deputy Director of OPM-submitted written testimony to that effect, Weitzman reversed course during the hearing after receiving a note from a colleague. Weitzman stated that a domestic partner benefits program would be vulnerable to fraud, and cited the Adam Sandler film "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," in which two firefighters pose as domestic partners in order to secure health benefits. Weitzman, as quoted in today's Washington Post, said at the hearing, "this is not farfetched."
"Resorting to a Hollywood comedy to justify opposing fair compensation for all employees is a new low even for this Administration," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Mr. Weitzman and his superiors in the Administration can point to no real evidence that LGBT people would be any more likely to try to game the system than their heterosexual counterparts."
Currently, married heterosexual couples are not required to show proof of their marriage when applying for health benefits, though such proof can be requested for retirement or survivor benefits. The legislation being considered requires LGBT employees to sign an affidavit of their partnership, and advises them that providing false information can result in disciplinary action and possible criminal penalties. Businesses witnesses at the hearing testified that domestic partner benefits program have been successful and help to recruit a talented workforce.
"Once again the Bush Administration has put anti-gay ideology over sound business judgment and common sense," said Solmonese. "In the course of the hearing, OPM suddenly decided that sixteen states, and most of the nation's largest businesses had made the wrong business decision. Worse yet, rather than admit that the specter of fraud is a red herring unsupported by evidence, Deputy Director Weitzman told a United States Senate Committee that a movie provides the evidence they need. The American people deserve policy decisions driven by facts, fairness, and logic. This attempt to justify unequal compensation for equal work is a disgrace to the LGBT people who dedicate their careers to public service," he said.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
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