OPM Says Same-Sex Civil Unions Will ‘Remain Ineligible For Most Federal Benefits’

ObamaWith married gay couples now able to access federal benefits as a result of the Supreme Court's DOMA decision, focus initially turned to whether or not same-sex couples in civil unions would be given similar concessions as well. Word from the White House today, however, appears to have nixed any hope that those couples would have access to federal protections. ThinkProgress reports:

The White House Office of Personnel Management released a series of memos dealing with different benefits for federal employees and explicitly made clear that only same-sex couples who are legally married can access them – not those in civil unions. Some benefits for domestic partnerships will remain intact, but same-sex couples in such partnerships or in civil unions "will remain ineligible for most Federal benefits programs.

Currently, four states continue to offer civil unions in place of marriage equality: Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey. When faced with the "civil union vs. marriage" debate in those state legislatures, many lawmakers argued that civil unions would be satisfactory and provide the same benefits, just without the "marriage" label. With the inequalities of civil unions now offical on the federal level, it appears LGBT allies in those states will be pushing for full marriage equality in the near future. ThinkProgress notes that this is particularly true in New Jersey, where the state Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples deserve complete equality, so civil unions offered there now appear to be a violation of the state's constitution. 


  1. Strepsi says

    This looks like a slap to us, but it’s clever as it’s really a slap to the Jim Crow “everything but marriage” states. Chris Christie will have to s*** or get off the pot — it has been shown time and again that gay people in civil unions in New Jersey do NOT get the same rights at work, hospitals, and government as people with the simple status “married”.

    This puts another nail in the separate-but-equal coffin. As it should — straight or gay, you should have the choice whether to get married or be in a union or common-law, which are all different things.

  2. johnny says

    I’ve always believed that “civil unions” where a crippled legal status that does not afford us true equality.

    So, this is great!

    If you read between the lines, this is the White House way of saying “Keep the lawsuits coming, we’re paving the way for true marriage equality”.

  3. HadenoughBS says

    For my partner of 33 years and me, we can’t avail ourselves of any form of civil partnership here in GOPer-controlled homophobic Texas. We can’t even get married in a SSM state but receive federal benefits here where we reside and work. So, I’m afraid it’ll take the federal court system to step in and give us and all similarly-situated gay & lesbian couples the equality recognition and rights we deserve via the SCOTUS decisions.

  4. BZ says

    Oregon also had “everything but marriage” recognition, but in the western states they have been called domestic partnerships rather than civil unions.

    This may seem like a clever move to get rid of Jim Crow CUs/DPs, but it is not. After Windsor there is no remaining justification for the Federal Government to override the actions of the states in determining which relationships are eligible for federal benefits. If I live in a DP/CU state and pay taxes at the married rate, I am still being doubly penaltized by missing out on federal benefits. I don’t know how Obama is going to defend this when he gets sued by DP/CU couples. Is he going to claim that we are once again invisible under federal law? That we are still strangers under the law? That dog won’t hunt.

  5. pedro says

    The federal government only recognizes marriage. It has never recognized any other union. Why should it do that now? It would only be an excuse for the bigots who want a permanent gay underclass. I think this is the right call. If you live in a state offering only civil unions/domestic partnerships file a lawsuit stating that it violates your equal rights and that only marriage would be true equality.

  6. says

    We live in VT, where Civil Unions were invented and were the only option for 9 years. We always knew that meant no chance of Federal recognition if DOMA was overturned. It’s always been one of the arguments for marriage.

    Recognizing something other than marriage would be a logistical nightmare for the bureaucracy. All the statutes talk about marriage. They would all have to be rewritten to add “and CUs and DPs”. Next time a state comes up with another name for marriage lite they’d have to add that. Not likely.

    And BZ: Obama will not get sued. The states will. Furthermore you would only pay taxes at the married rate if you are married, not if you’re in a CU/DP. Some trolls need to get their facts straight.

  7. says

    And hadenough: you can receive SOME benefits if you get married in a state more enlightened than TX. Some benefits come from the state of marriage, others from the state of domicile. The Obama administration has stated they prefer the former and will press for it, but without changing laws they can’t do it all.

  8. says

    this is the law. It might be possible to change the federal laws (there are many that pertain to marriage) so that civil unions are treated the same as marriage, but I don’t see that happen. Civil unions are not the same as marriage. It was a piss-poor, spineless compromise on the part of moderate Democrats and a few Republicans who lacked the spine to stand up to anti-gay bigots.

  9. says

    This confirms what we’ve known (or should have) all along: CUs are 2nd class and not equivalent to marriage, which is why they are a violation of equal protection. While, in practical terms, at the state level they were “separate but equal” at the federal level they are “separate and unequal,” and people in CU states have a very good case now for why they are unacceptable and unconstitutional. The Obama administration is simply recognizing the obvious. The Chris Christies of the world can no longer push the pretense that it doesn’t matter. It does. And the SCOTUS decision draws a line under the inequality.

  10. HadenoughBS says

    @KevinVt: Yes, I’ve read what Prez O hopes to do regarding federal benefits for those of us living in, as you so aptly put it, “unenlightened” states like Texas; however, I’ll believe it when I read it because I do recognize only so much (or, so little) can be done for us without the power of a law making it fully applicable. And, no, it’s not as simple as moving to a state that already recognizes SSM when your professional life and/or business is in a non-SSM state. Life is never quite THAT easy!

  11. says

    People need to get as many of these partnerships as possible. This is a glowing problem in our marriage fight and the more people that are in it, the more attention it will receive. Not 2 years after this is finished I guarantee we will see many books and analysts touting their disgust at such an obvious second class citizen situation.

  12. Zeta says

    The federal government only recognizes marriage. It has never recognized any other union. Why should it do that now? It would only be an excuse for the bigots who want a permanent gay underclass. I think this is the right call. If you live in a state offering only civil unions/domestic partnerships file a lawsuit stating that it violates your equal rights and that only marriage would be true equality.

    Posted by: pedro | Jul 9, 2013 9:12:53 AM

    For better or for worse, this is the correct answer.

  13. Zeta says

    I think this is a strong footing for us to show everyone that civil unions really aren’t equal.

    Posted by: reality | Jul 9, 2013 8:58:07 AM

    The problem is that maybe they should have been. This isn’t just a gay thing; straights fought the good fight regarding domestic partnership recognition for decades.

  14. simon says

    Obama as a candidate when he first ran for president supported civil union which has all the benefits of a marriage. There seems to be a bit of inconsistency here.

  15. says

    Simon, consistency is the hobgoblin of mediocre minds. Early on, President Obama said he was “evolving” on the marriage issue and he has done so.

    As to the issue of whether a marriage performed in, say, Vermont, will be recognized by the Feds even if a couple lives in a non-SSM state: The Federal government must recognize marriages performed in any state which allows it, as well as marriages performed in other countries (the plaintiff in the DOMA case, Edie Windsor, married her same-sex spouse in Canada). Ultimately, the chief legal benefits and responsibilities of marriage derive from the Federal government. These 1138 statutory provisions touch nearly every aspect of life, from custodial rights, to financial benefits such as survivor’s benefits, to income and estate taxes. That was the point of the Windsor ruling and the striking down of part 3 of the DOMA law.

  16. Anony6 says

    I agree with several posters above. This is good. Never has it been clearer that a civil union is not marriage, nor can it be a substitute for marriage.

  17. Bryan says

    As Johnny notes—this is a perfect setup in the “keep the lawsuits coming” messaging. This leads the way to a claim under equal protection (two substantially equal groups being afforded different protections), and hopefully leads us back to SCOTUS–hopefully with enough time and more state victories between now and then—-that the whole thing can be accomplished. :)

  18. Michael Bedwell says

    “My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word ‘marriage’, which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples, in terms of hospital visitation, in terms of whether or not they can transfer property or Social Security benefits and so forth.” – Barack Obama, 2007 LOGO/HRC Forum.

    “I believe that federal law should treat all individuals and couples equally, regardless of sexual orientation. That is why I am a cosponsor on the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2007 which would give the domestic partners of federal employees all the same rights, benefits, and obligations as apply to married spouses.” – Barack Obama, 2008 Houston GLBT Political Caucus Questionnaire, February 25, 2008.

    “I believe civil unions should include the same legal rights that accompany a marriage license. I think the President should do all he or she can to advance strong families. Whatever the make-up of the family, it is the President’s role to provide policies and leadership that enable the family to thrive. – Barack Obama, 2008 HRC Presidential Questionnaire.

    “Americans are yearning for leadership that can empower us to reach for what we know is possible. I believe that we can achieve the goal of full equality for the millions of LGBT people in this country. To do that, we need leadership that can appeal to the best parts of the human spirit. Join with me, and I will provide that leadership.” Barack Obama, February 28, 2008.

    Welcome to the Second Term of Barack Obama, Fraud-in-Chief.

  19. says

    Edie Windsor married Thea Spyer in Canada, but that marriage was respected by New York state (before they passed marriage equality). It would not have been respected in Arkansas, and she wouldn’t have had a case, or the same case anyway. The other DOMA cases (that would have gone before the SC) involved people married in marriage equality states like VT and MA. The question of how the federal government will recognize the marriage of someone who married in VT but now lives in TX remains complicated.

    @Michael, the same could and is being said about Clinton, signer of DOMA. One can hold a grudge forever (as many do with Clinton) or one can move on when a politician has changed views with the changing times. There was a case to be made for national CUs with benefits equivalent to marriage. A poor one in my opinion, but one nonetheless. Gay people have made it. But now that there are 13 equality states and the marriages of same-sex couples are recognized by the federal government, the national CU argument is no longer valid, as Obama recognizes (and has for some time now). You can remain fixated on 2008 and turn it into evidence of fraud (good luck finding a President who isn’t fraudulent in that respect) or you can realize that the President is making the right call in 2013.

  20. Rexford says

    Separate but equal doesn’t work, and we need one standard before the law. It’s a good strategy to get those states that have CUs and DPs to change them to marriage and increase the national footprint. I could also see this paving the way for a case to get rid of Section 2 DOMA by challenging “reciprocity” clauses in certain state codes (e.g. “we got married on vacation in New York, but Illinois only recognizes our relationship as a civil union – which the state seems to think is equal, but clearly isn’t”).

  21. HA! says

    Once again we are offered NOTHING! The only reason “Barry” acquiesced was because of statements made by the Vice President. Don’t think our LEADER has evolved. He is a con man and a charlatan. He no more believes in our (gay peoples)rights than I believe in the easter bunny. Please do not call me friend and drive a knife in my back….

    oh and we are registered at Tiffany and co.

  22. says

    @HA!: Presidents don’t offer marriages; states do. The states that offer 2nd-class CUs or nothing at all are responsible for that discrimination and will need to answer for it via all the lawsuits coming down the pike. It has nothing to do with the President beyond the fact that he understands law.

  23. alex says

    In NJ – Cristi would let 20% of consituants lose federal benefits because of his PERSONAL Bias. His bias is above his responsibilities to ALL New Jersians! He vetod the NJ same sex marraige law that the legislature put in place because THEIR constituants equality for all? If Cristi runs for president will he try to put DOMA Back? What if he opposes other marraiges – like mixed marraiges..will he veto other civil right protections?

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