The Labor Department plans to announce on Wednesday a new order that would extend family and medical benefits to gay couples who work for private as well as federal employers.
Gay employees are included under the new interpretation of the Family and Medical Leave Act that allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to take care of newborns, sick children, a same-sex partner, or personal medical conditions. Previously, the 1993 law only applied to heterosexual couples.
“This action with the Family and Medical leave Act is a huge leap beyond anything he’s (President Obama) done before because he is imposing an obligation upon private employers,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, according to CitizenLink. “He’s not the executive of every private employer in the country, and yet, he is telling them that they have to offer benefits to homosexual couples.”
The expected Labor Department announcement comes a day after the White House held a reception in honor of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Guests at the Tuesday event included gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens from across the nation as well as government officials.
During the reception, Obama listed to guests what his administration has done to further gay rights, including: extending benefits to gay federal employees, signing the hate crimes law, supporting a gay employee discrimination bill, and pushing to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy bars soldiers from disclosing they are gay or lesbian while serving in the military. The House has already passed the repeal of DADT and the bill is currently in the Senate, where it faces a tougher crowd.
“We have never been closer to ending this discriminatory policy, and I’m going to keep on fighting until that bill is on my desk,” vowed Obama.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also attended the reception, spoke about the more gay-friendly environment at the State Department. Clinton supported extending benefits to same-sex partners of State Department employees and making it easier for transgender citizens to change their passports.
President Obama has received criticism from gay rights activists in recent months for not doing enough for the LGBT community. They complained when he wanted to postpone repealing the DADT until after a Pentagon report on the issue. However, they were somewhat satisfied when the White House worked out a compromise where the U.S. House could pass the repeal but no changes would go in effect until after the release of the Pentagon report in December.
Obama, for the second straight year, declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride month.