Obama extends benefits for federal workers' gay partners; gay rights groups welcome decision as a first step.
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (JUNE 17, 2009) -
President Barack Obama on Wednesday (June 17, 2009) extended limited job benefits to gay partners of U.S. government workers in what he called a first step to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Under pressure from gay rights groups, Obama urged Congress to pass legislation that would extend full healthcare and retirement benefits to gay families in the 1.9 million-strong federal workforce, as many U.S. businesses already do.
"Many of our government's hardworking and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoyed for one simple reason: the people that they love are of the same sex," Obama said before signing an order to extend benefits for federal workers' gay partners.
"It's a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step."
Obama's announcement showed that his administration may focus more on incremental, tangible gains for gays and lesbians, rather than wading directly into the divisive gay marriage debate that has played out at the state level.
Gay rights groups called Wednesday's move a welcome first step and said they understood that the president had been busy trying to shore up the economy and lay the groundwork for landmark healthcare and climate-change legislation.
But they said they would continue to press the administration to outlaw workplace discrimination and extend benefits for same-sex couples.
Obama did not back gay marriage during the 2008 campaign, but he did promise to repeal a 1996 law that prevents the government from recognizing same-sex marriages.