A House subcommittee approved a bill on Thursday that would extend health and other benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
With a 5 to 3 vote along party lines, the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia granted the same-sex domestic partner of federal workers the same benefits as the spouse of heterosexual employees.
These benefits include health insurance, retirement and disability benefits, and provide an annuity for the partner after the employee's death. Partners of federal employees also need to fulfill the same obligations as spouses, such as financial disclosure requirements.
Supporters of the bill maintain that it is unfair for same-sex federal employees to pay for a separate health plan for their partner, especially when many states and Fortune 500 companies offer same-sex partners such benefits.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health coverage for domestic partners, although they must pay tax for the coverage.
"We are way behind the country," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), according to the Federal Times. "Wake up. The country has changed on these issues. Congress is following, not leading."
But those who oppose the bill argue that it devalues traditional marriage by giving marriage-like status to same-sex domestic partners.
Subcommittee member Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the legislation seeks "in many ways to redefine marriage, and I will not, I will not stand for that," according to The Washington Post.
"The exception I obviously make is for the traditional view of marriage, which is between one man and one woman," Chaffetz said. "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."
Conservative Christian leaders have also spoken out against the bill.
Concerned Women for America, a public policy women's organization, criticized the congressmen who approved the bill for "irresponsible" spending of tax dollars when they should be "cutting spending."
"Time after time Americans vote to uphold marriage as one man and one woman. Yet this bill will spend federal funds to elevate relationships outside of marriage as if they are the same as a legal marriage," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.
"Even after the country is, as Barack Obama said, 'out of money,' this bill would spend taxpayers' money on a policy that demeans marriage," she contended.
In June, President Obama granted some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, but said he could not grant full benefits without legislation from Congress.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, responded to President Obama's action by describing it as the use of tax payer dollars to "appease his political base."
"We're carving out special benefits for couples based on their sexual behaviors," Perkins said in an interview with MSNBC's "The Ed Show" in June. "This is not being extended to heterosexuals who cohabitate."
The same argument was made by Republican lawmakers this week, who pointed out heterosexual domestic partners of federal employees are not given benefits offered to same-sex partners under the bill.
HR 2517 is expected to be reviewed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in September. If it passes, the bill will go to the full House of Representatives for a vote.