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Obama administration extends benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees

The Obama administration on Friday amended regulations to offer same-sex domestic partners of federal employees some retirement benefits. The new regulation [text, PDF] adds "same-sex domestic partners to the class of persons for which an insurable interest is presumed to exist," which allows the employee to designate their partner as a recipient to their annuity after they pass away. Another regulation change [text] also permits children of an employee's same-sex domestic partner to receive a child-care subsidy in some instances. An additional proposed regulation [text, PDF] would also allow federal employees to use the federal health insurance plan to cover children of their same-sex partners In addition to the changes to regulations, the Obama administration has also recently appealed two cases to the Supreme Court this month seeking to strip the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive] of elements banning benefits for same-sex spouses of married federal employees.

The changes to federal regulations come in the wake of a 2010 memo [text, PDF] sent to the heads of federal departments and agencies instructing them to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of their employees. Additionally, there have been a bevy of challenges to DOMA in recent weeks. Last week an elderly woman challenged DOMA [JURIST report] in New York. Earlier in the month, a lesbian couple filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] in a DOMA challenge that seeks to achieve for gay and lesbian couples the same federal immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples [JURIST report] under the Immigration and Nationality Act [materials]. Also this month 132 members of the US House of Representatives [official website] filed an amicus brief [JURIST report] arguing that statutory classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened judicial scrutiny, and that DOMA should be overturned as unconstitutional under any level of judicial scrutiny. The brief was filed in the appeal of Karen Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, the landmark case in which the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. Last month 10 US senators filed their own amicus brief in the case, arguing in the opposite [JURIST report] that the federal government had a legitimate interest in creating a uniform federal definition of marriage to "[avoid] massive legal uncertainty."

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