Domestic Partner Benefits: A Critical Part of Our Fight

June 19, 2009

You may have run across yesterday’s news accounts, such as this one in the Washington Post, about President Obama’s decision to award some domestic partner benefits to federal employees. You also may have read accounts, such as this Reuters release of a Politico story, that detail continued criticisms of Obama for not doing more to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Here in Texas, we’ve been working on this issue with a coalition of state university workers who want to secure domestic partner benefits for university employees. The term accurately describing what we’re seeking is “competitive insurance benefits.” In other words, if we don’t secure the same sorts of insurance benefits that more progressive university systems have arrived at, we risk losing talented LGBT members of university faculties and staffs to schools in other states.

President Obama, to be fair, is attempting to address the concerns that LGBT federal employees. Because health care is tied so closely to employment in our current system, LGBT workers with families to support must factor in employers’ views on health care for domestic partners when looking for work or deciding to stay with a particular employer. Married couples don’t have to take those same sort of factors into account, because federal law protects them. Under the current system — a system with includes the Defense of Marriage Act and its limitations on same-sex partners, even those who are legally married in the handful of states currently allowing and recognizing those marriages — there is a separate and unequal system in place that ultimately impacts many families. Certainly, that double standard is as unacceptable as any other form of discrimination — be it based on gender, race, or sexual orientation.

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Video Update from Lobby Day

March 10, 2009

Here’s some video from last week — this is former Soulforce Media Director Paige Schilt with Atticus Circle member Stephanie Molnar, talking about their experience talking to Texas state legislators during last week’s Lobby Day event. The Equality Texas event, which involved a number of Atticus Circle members, involved nearly 500 Texans who talked face-to-face with legislators about their support for a series of bills seeking to give LGBT individuals, couples, and families in Texas equal rights.

Here are Paige and Stephanie talking about their experience:


Come Lobby With Us at the Texas State Capitol March 2

February 12, 2009

We’re excited to be a partner with Equality Texas for Lobby Day on Monday, March 2 — the best possible way we can think of to celebrate Texas Independence Day!

Lobbying is easier than and not as scary as you may believe it to be – it’s simply a one-on-one conversation, in which you communicate the issues that are important to you with the individuals elected to represent you. On Lobby Day, you’ll be able to join hundreds of citizens from across the state to oppose public policy discrimination against Texans and their families based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression — and to support bills that would offer our LGBT friends and family members necessary protections and rights.

Here are the bills currently being considered by the Texas State Legislature (with links showing how the bills are progressing):

House Bill 197, relating to prohibition of insurance discrimination based on sexual orientation;
House Bill 353, relating to health care rights of domestic partners;
House Bill 538, relating to the prohibition of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression;
House Bill 616, relating to a study regarding the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act; and
House Bill 861, relating to the authority of certain university systems to provide benefits to certain qualified individuals.

If you’re interested in joining the Atticus Circle lobbying group on March 2, we ask you do two things:

1. Join Atticus Circle — our Texan members receive weekly Atticus Alerts to keep you updated on what’s happening with these bills, as well as to educate you about the legislative process and to let you know specific things you can do to help
2. Once you’ve become an Atticus Circle member, register on the Equality Texas website. When filling out the form, be sure to list Atticus Circle under “organization.” (This page also details the schedule for the March 1 welcome reception and the full slate of Lobby Day activities.)

We encourage you to participate in this very exciting and important part of the legislative process. If you can’t be there with us on the 2nd, the Atticus Alerts (and this blog) will let you know what you can do from home.


Legislation Alert: Uniting American Families Act

February 9, 2009

Our friend Eugene Sepulveda alerted us to a new piece of proposed legislation intended to help those LGBT couples impacted by immigration enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples. According to the Gay Life section of About.com, the Uniting American Families Act, UAFA, H.R. 2221, seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. If passed, the legislation would allow permanent partners of United States citizens and permanent residents, including same-sex partners, to obtain residency. Currently, only the heterosexual spouses of U.S. citizens are granted citizenship once they marry.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is reintroducing the legislation this coming Friday, after introducing a version in 2007.

If you’re moved to write a letter to your representatives in Congress to alert them to the reintroduction of the bill and your support for it, here’s a suggested template:

I am writing to ask for your support of gay & lesbian equality in immigration policy by asking that you sign as a cosponsor of the Uniting American Families Act of 2009.

The U.S. government discriminates against gay and lesbian binational couples by not allowing us/them to sponsor foreign-born life partners for immigration. Because of this, we/they face the terrible choice of separating from the person we/they love or leaving our/their country. As Americans, we should not have to choose between family and country. Please cosponsor the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 by reaching out to Rep. Nadler before February 12.

Passage of the bill would not only be a triumph for those LGBT couples who find themselves in this situation, but it will also be another step forward in helping LGBT couples gain the same rights that straight couples currently have.  We’ll keep you updated on its status.


Report from Creating Change Conference in Denver: Domestic Partners Need COBRA Too

January 31, 2009

Greetings from Denver! We’re here at the Creating Change Conference, hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. There’s a lot of excitement among the attendees as to what we can do in this new climate of change, but there are also some very real challenges for LGBT couples in this economic climate. One of these, brought to our attention by Nicky Grist of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, is the need for COBRA benefits for domestic partners. This online letter-writing campaign details what’s at stake. Basically, even if an employer offers domestic partner benefits to an employee, the employer doesn’t legally have to extend continuation coverage to the domestic partner if the employee is laid off. That obviously has dire implications for couples and their families dealing with medical issues and financial hardship. If you have time this week, please write a letter addressing this important issue … and stay tuned to this blog next week for a report from the conference.