WASHINGTON – Doug Brandi has worked for the U.S. government for 27 years, five in the Air Force, but he does not receive the same compensation as his married co-workers in the U.S. Aid for International Development human resources office.
It’s not his salary that’s lacking, he said, but his benefits.
Brandi is a gay man whose longtime companion, Vincent, cannot take advantage of the full range of federal benefits more traditional families can.
“If I were a heterosexual, I could have married several times by now, and each one of my spouses would have been eligible for benefits,” Brandi said. “But my partner of 21 years has to go out on the open market to find health coverage.”
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is sponsoring a bill for federal workers like Brandi, that would extend benefits enjoyed by married couples to unmarried “domestic partners.”
Under Frank’s bill, an unmarried couple would submit an affidavit to the Office of Personnel Management that certified they met the criteria which defines them as domestic partners.
Applicants must be in an exclusive relationship, share a common residence, be 18 or older, share financial burdens and cannot be related in any way that would ordinarily prohibit marriage.
Frank admitted that without Republican backing it is unlikely his bill will pass Congress this year or next. But, the measure has picked up support among some members of Maryland’s congressional delegation.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Prince George’s, has signed on as a co- sponsor of the legislation, even though he voted for a bill the outlawed gay marriages.
“Marriage is a traditional and religious institution,” Wynn said. “Nonetheless, people who do have same-sex relationships ought to have some rights.”
Wynn calls Frank’s bill a “logical compromise” that will allow committed domestic partners to take advantage of federal benefits while still preserving the sanctity of marriage.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-Montgomery, also supports the legislation and said she will use her position on the Government Reform and Oversight civil service subcommittee to get attention for Frank’s idea.
“She supports the legislation and she’s going to push the subcommittee chair, Mr. Mica (Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.), to call a hearing,” said Morella spokeswoman Mary Anne Leary.
Not everyone in the Maryland delegation backs the bill. The measure is “anti-family and anti-marriage,” Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Fredrick, said through his spokeswoman, Lisa Wright.
“We believe that is one step towards the slippery slope of sanctioning same-sex marriage,” said Carmen Pate, a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative pro family group.
No one has estimated what it would cost the federal government to extend benefits to domestic partners. But a human resources official at Microsoft Corp., which has offered such benefits since 1993, said the costs have been “negligible.”
Microsoft has found that extending partner benefits gives workers peace of mind and makes them more productive, said Randy Massengale, Microsoft’s diversity director.
“Now our employees don’t have to worry about catastrophic illnesses of partners,” he said.
In the case of Brandi, the USAID worker, a domestic partners bill would give Vincent the same benefits as a spouse. Frank’s bill would apply to both unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples.
Vincent’s health insurance is more expensive and does not cover as many services as are extended to the spouses of federal employees, Brandi said. Also denied to unmarried couples are survivors benefits.
“If I retire and drop dead a year later, all the benefits I would have earned would end,” said Brandi. However, if he were part of a legally married couple, his spouse would receive pension payments and health coverage.
However, data provided by the Family Research Council, a conservative think tank, points out that only six of the Fortune 1,000 companies have instituted benefits for domestic partners and that in 1994 voters in Austin, Texas voted 62 percent to 38 percent to deny benefits to unmarried couples.
Frank said that he doesn’t see how this legislation could be construed as anti-family. He asked “If I’m a married man with a wife and children, how does this hurt me?”