Legislation extending employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal workers and retirees would have a negligible impact on costs incurred by the government over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2011 (S. 1910) would grant gay and lesbian federal employees' domestic partners access to the same health insurance, survivor annuities and other benefits currently available to married couples. The bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in May and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
A companion bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in November 2011.
In a report released on Nov. 26, CBO analysts estimated that the proposed law's passage would likely raise the federal government's total benefits costs by about $144 million over 10 years beginning in 2013. That estimate, the report noted, includes $68 million in "off-budget" expenses derived specifically from extending health benefits to domestic partners of active U.S. Postal Service workers.
Besides health insurance and survivor annuities, the proposed law would allow federal workers' domestic partners participation rights for their partners' employee retirement and disability plans, family and medical leave, group life and long-term care insurance plans, workers compensation, death and disability benefits and relocation reimbursements.
CBO analysts said they expect about 1 percent of active federal workers — roughly 300 individuals — would likely choose to register a same-sex domestic partnership, given the opportunity. Approximately 60 percent of eligible federal workers would move to a family health care plan from single coverage, while a projected 85 percent would elect survivor benefits for a domestic partner, the report said.
Challenges to DOMA
The CBO report released its report five days before the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to decide whether it will take up a number of constitutional challenges to state and federal laws that limit the availability of employment benefits for legally married same-sex couples, particularly the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.
The DOMA law legally recognizes marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Though the law does not invalidate same-sex marriages, it does prohibit gay couples from filing joint federal tax returns or collecting their spouse's Social Security after their death. DOMA also specifically prevents gay federal employees from enrolling their spouse in government-sponsored health care plans and precludes other marriage benefits granted to heterosexual couples.
Hypothetically, if the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act were enacted, it would override DOMA's provisions regarding federal employees, but not its overarching definition of marriage for tax and Social Security purposes.
Two U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, in Boston and New York, struck down the DOMA law this year. Both courts ruled that the law violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in its denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married gay couples.