WASHINGTON --Legislation extending employee benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers was approved by a House of Representatives subcommittee July 30.
Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was the lone witness to testify against the legislation before the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia earlier in the month.
The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, Page said, discourages marriage, discriminates against unmarried heterosexual couples and leaves room for widespread fraud and waste.
By a 5-3 vote along party lines, the subcommittee agreed to grant homosexual partners of federal employees such benefits as health insurance, retirement and disability as well as group life insurance and family and medical leave.
President Obama, when he endorsed the bill in June, said the legislation was needed to help the government compete with private employers who already offer benefits to same-sex partners.
"Those companies recognize that offering partner benefits helps them compete for and retain the brightest and most talented employees," Obama said. "The federal government is at a disadvantage on that score right now, and change is long overdue."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D.-Wis., said she was delighted by the subcommittee's action because the legislation would ensure the federal government's competitive edge.
Subcommittee chairman Stephen Lynch, D.-Mass., said the bill promotes "the basic concepts of equity and fairness" while placing the federal government "on par with the private sector, where health insurance, retirement, disability and other benefits are already widely available to domestic partners."
Page, though, argued that the bill takes "a direct role in opposition to a traditional definition and support of that which marriage has traditionally been."
"[T]he government should be in the process of encouraging the traditional marriage that has stood for many, many hundreds of years as that way that culture is best protected," Page said, adding that "government ought to be encouraging, not discouraging, [marriage]. And I think this act discourages."
He added, "We also, as unpopular as it is today, believe that this is a part of a social agenda that continues to seek normalization of a homosexual lifestyle that I and, I believe, many other evangelicals, not all, certainly oppose. We care for people. We do love people, but we're painted as if we are hateful, caricatured as mean-spirited. We're not. But we do believe there are absolutes, and we stand by them."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R.-Utah, said the bill "in many ways seeks to redefine marriage."
"I fundamentally do not believe that we should be creating benefits like this based on sexual orientation ... or lifestyle choices," Chaffetz said. "The exception I obviously make is for the traditional view of marriage, which is between one man and one woman. I think what is sought in this bill is a recognition from the federal government of a certain lifestyle and orientation choices, which I cannot support."
The cost of extending health benefits alone to the estimated 34,000 same-sex partners of federal employees would be $60.4 million in the first year, according to the written testimony of Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Badgett, who supported the legislation, said the bill would "put the federal government in the mainstream of modern compensation practices."
The bill defines "domestic partner" to mean an adult unmarried person living with another adult unmarried person of the same sex in a committed, intimate relationship. It defines "benefits" to include federal health insurance and enhanced dental and vision benefits, retirement and disability benefits, family, medical and emergency leave, group life insurance, long-term care insurance, compensation for work injuries, and benefits for disability, death or captivity.
Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said the definition of what constitutes a domestic partnership is vague, and he said it undermines the rationale for the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that, in part, prevents the federal government from recognizing "gay marriage." In June, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution expressing opposition to proposals extending marriage benefits to homosexual couples.
In addition to Lynch, those who voted for the bill in the subcommittee were Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Dennis Kucinich, D.-Ohio, William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and Gerald Connolly, D.-Va.
Along with Chaffetz, Reps. Mark Souder, R.-Ind., and Brian Billbray, R.-Calif., opposed the bill. The legislation next will be considered by the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the House.