Publication Date



[Excerpt] The federal government provides a variety of benefits to its 8 million employees and annuitants. Among these benefits are health insurance; enhanced dental and vision benefits; survivor benefits; retirement and disability benefits; family, medical, and emergency leave; and reimbursement of relocation costs. Pursuant to Title 5 U.S.C. Chapters 89, 89A, 89B and other statutes, millions of federal employees may extend these benefits to their spouses and children. An estimated 34,000 federal employees are in same-sex relationships, including state-recognized marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits federal recognition of these unions for purposes of federal enactments. Some federal employees and Members of Congress have argued that the same-sex partners of federal employees should have access to those benefits afforded married, opposite-sex couples.

To this end, companion bills that would extend certain benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees have been introduced in the 111th Congress. On May 20, 2009, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins introduced S. 1102. That same day, Representative Tammy Baldwin introduced H.R. 2517. S. 1102 was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and ordered to be reported favorably on December 16, 2009. H.R. 2517 was referred to three different committees: the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the House Administration Committee, and the House Judiciary Committee. On July 30, 2009, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia reported the bill, as amended, to the full committee. On November 18, 2009, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ordered the bill to be reported, as amended.

The executive branch has also taken action on the issue of extending benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. On June 17, 2009, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum directing executive agencies to extend benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees within the authority of existing law. On July 10, 2009, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director John Berry issued a memorandum directing executive-branch agencies to review all benefits offered to employees who are married to someone of the opposite gender. The agencies were directed to determine whether the benefits they listed were or could be extended to the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees. The agency reports were due on September 15, 2009.

On December 17, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its cost estimate of H.R. 2517, stating that enacting the legislation “would increase direct spending by $596 million through 2019” and discretionary spending would increase $302 million over the same period of time.

This report examines the current policies on the application of benefits to same-sex partners, analyzes the bills currently pending in the 111th Congress, and reviews the policy debate on extending benefits to same-sex partners. This report is about federal benefits for same-sex partners and not about same-sex relationships in general. It will be updated as events warrant.


Suggested Citation
Ginsberg, W. R. (2010). Federal employee benefits and same-sex partnerships. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.