Rep. Pocan, LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chairs Call on DOD to Extend Phase Out Period for Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits Program

by | Dec 23, 2016 | 0 comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and the LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chairs sent a letter to the Department of Defense (DOD) calling for an extension of  the phase out period for the Same-Sex Domestic Partner program. On November 2 the DOD announced that benefits for same-sex couples would be phased out by December 31. While couples can now receive benefits thanks to the marriage equality decision by the Supreme Court, the Department’s phase out period of less than two months provides them little to no flexibility to either get married or adjust to the loss of their benefits.

“This adjustment period of less than two months is grossly inadequate and stands in contrast to the nearly three-year window implemented by the State Department to phase out their domestic partner benefit program,” the Members write. “The rushed timing of this process is not necessary and will likely result in a gap in benefits that will be detrimental to many families. For these reasons, we urge the Department to extend the phase out period and ensure same-sex couples have the flexibility to adjust to this significant policy change.”

The full  text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Carter:

We write today to express concern about the November 2, 2016, announcement from the Department of Defense notifying individuals that benefits under the Same-Sex Domestic Partner program will be phased out by December 31, 2016. The timeframe from the date of the announcement to the termination of benefits is unnecessarily short and does not offer the flexibility for affected families to either plan a marriage or prepare for a removal of benefits.

As openly LGBT Members of Congress, we deeply appreciate the Department’s 2013 decision to extend certain benefits to same-sex domestic partners. The lack of clarity resulting from the disparate state laws on same-sex marriage posed difficulties for many couples in accessing federal benefits. The implementation of the Same-Sex Domestic Partner program provided important protections for many couples and sent a signal about the value of their relationship in the eyes of the Department.

We recognize the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges provides the opportunity for these couples to access critical benefits that have been covered by the Department’s domestic partnership program. Further, we acknowledge the long term continuation of the domestic partnership program for same-sex couples may raise questions of equal access to benefits for opposite-sex couples. However, we believe the timeframe for the phase out of benefits does not provide sufficient notice for couples to accommodate this change, particularly during a busy holiday season. This adjustment period of less than two months is grossly inadequate and stands in contrast to the nearly three-year window implemented by the State Department to phase out their domestic partner benefit program. The rushed timing of this process is not necessary and will likely result in a gap in benefits that will be detrimental to many families.

For these reasons, we urge the Department to extend the phase out period and ensure same-sex couples have the flexibility to adjust to this significant policy change. Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

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