Same-sex couples in the U.S. would be eligible for leave to care for their spouses regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes gay marriage, under rules the Obama administration plans to propose.
President Barack Obama directed the Labor Department to draft rules that would allow gay and lesbian couples in all states to take unpaid time under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a spouse, the White House said in a statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court a year ago struck down a law that denied federal benefits to legally married gay couples. Since that June 2013 ruling, it’s been unclear whether unpaid family leave requirements apply to same-sex couples.
Obama has been under pressure from the gay community and Democrats in Congress to offer more protections to same-sex couples and gay workers. Democrats want to use their support for gay marriage as an advantage in the congressional elections in November, highlighting it as a key difference with Republicans.
The Obama administration also will ask Congress to change the law to allow same-sex couples to receive all federal benefits. The White House said earlier this week that Obama plans to issue an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against gay and transgendered workers.
The U.S. government has by “the greatest extent possible under the law” complied with last year’s Supreme Court ruling, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a memo today to Obama on a review of how federal agencies are applying the court decision.
“Agencies have overwhelmingly chosen to recognize marriages as valid based on the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage took place, regardless of where the couple currently resides,” he wrote.
The Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs are prohibited by federal law from adopting rules based on where the marriage took place for some programs and that will need to be changed by Congress, Holder said.
Representative Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat, criticized the White House for not doing enough with today’s action because it only applies to legally married couples and not all gay couples who want to have been able to marry.
“While I applaud the Obama administration’s efforts to extend these benefits, today’s announcement shows that Congress must act to ensure that veterans and their families are not denied the benefits they have earned and deserve,” she said in an e-mailed statement. Titus is the top Democrat on a House panel overseeing veterans’ benefits and is sponsoring legislation to expand benefits to more gay couples.
Obama courted donors from the gay community at a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee on June 17 in New York.
“People have been waiting a long time for justice, and we’re working to deliver on it as fast as we can,” Obama said at the gathering.
Same-sex couples can get married in 19 states and the District of Columbia. In seven additional states, judges have declared gay-marriage bans unconstitutional, though the laws remain in effect during appeals.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, workers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for an ill family member or for the birth of a child. Employers are required to protect the absent employee’s job. The law applies to companies with more than 50 employees.
In the U.S., 12 percent of workers get paid time off to care for a baby or family member, according to the Labor Department.