Polis gives lukewarm praise to Obama for memo extending same-sex benefits

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said he was happy — but not very happy — President Barack Obama would be extending certain benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees Wednesday afternoon.

The openly gay Boulder Democrat, who a day earlier ripped the Obama administration’s defense of a federal law banning same-sex marriage, told The Colorado Independent the federal benefits extension amounted to “a far cry from the equality we seek.”

Here’s what Polis said:

“I am glad the president has decided to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. The exclusion of health care and retirement benefits because of DOMA, however, provides little real benefit to same-sex partners and is a far cry from the equality we seek. I again call on the president to repeal DOMA or work with Congress to end this law.”

Obama has been under fire since last week when his Justice Department filed a brief defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

The memorandum Obama is signing Wednesday adds sick-leave and long-term care benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees but stops short of adding health care and retirement, leaving many gay-rights activists cold.

Prominent gay fundraiser David Mixner unloaded on Obama’s plans in an e-mail to Politico’s Ben Smith:

“Are they kidding us? Domestic Partnership benefits WITHOUT health insurance because of DOMA? What kind of reality do they live in? It is like rubbing salt in the wound. I am glad that some barriers will be lifted for Federal Employees but what is the most important benefit needed….health insurance! Good god.”

“This is a first step, not a final step. This is an attempt to get our federal house in order,” director of the White House Office of Personnel Management John Berry told the Los Angeles Times. Berry is the the most prominent gay member of the Obama administration.

Earlier Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs signaled that Obama planned to push ahead on repealing DOMA and the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. From the press briefing transcript:

Q Switching topics. There’s a same-sex benefits announcement this afternoon. There are a number of folks who feel like this is too little too late. Can you talk about why people should see this as more than kind of an empty gesture or just a symbolic move on his part?

MR. GIBBS: This, I think as you’ll hear the President say later today, believes this is a matter of fairness. The President is committed to ensuring that fairness, as well as working on and fulfilling other promises that he’s made in the campaign around things like DOMA and “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Q But wouldn’t it also be fair to extend benefits such as the right to have health insurance — a health insurance plan or pension plan?

MR. GIBBS: Well, that requires not an executive order or presidential memorandum but a change in the law.

Q And is he going to push for that?

MR. GIBBS: That’s — part of what he’s promised on repealing DOMA would have an impact on that.

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Ernest Luning

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