It's hip to be queer

Will extending same-sex domestic partner benefits to federal employees make the White House cool?

By Judy Berman

Published October 16, 2009 4:17PM (EDT)

These days, it seems like everyone's rebranding -- including, apparently, the federal government. In a piece that quotes President Obama as saying he wants to make government employment "cool again," The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe reports that the White House is planning to do so through pushing a bill to extend same-sex domestic partner benefits to federal workers. That, they believe, will make the jobs more attractive to the best and brightest recent grads -- and not just the gay ones. "Young people are looking at this as an indicator that says, Do you have this? and, If not, this is not a cool place to be," said Office of Personnel Management director John Berry. "This really has become a litmus test for this generation. I know because I've been out talking to college students at our recruitment and job fairs."

Ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman is so excited about the plan that he's chairing the committee. He echoes the Obama administration's argument that its $56 million price tag will be "well worth the benefit that will accrue in recruiting and retaining the best people to serve as federal employees." It isn't surprising that some Republicans oppose the idea, although the reasons they cite are somewhat suspect. I mean, when was the last time you saw them complain that a "measure discriminates against unmarried heterosexual partners"?

My feelings about the new White House strategy are mixed. Ultimately, I'll support almost any plan that furthers gay rights. And, as a 20-something, I'm proud that my generation is pushing government progress on these issues. Yet it's also disappointing if it's true that the Obama administration is boosting the bill mainly as a means to attract smart, progressive young people and not because it's the right thing to do, period. It shouldn't have to be the means to some other end. But then, this kind of wishy-washy, instrumentalist support isn't exactly surprising from a president who has failed to deliver on so many gay-rights campaign promises. Just last Saturday he promised the Human Rights Campaign he'd end "don't ask, don't tell" ... shortly before reports revealed that the White House may still view the throngs of protesters at Sunday's National Equality March as the "Internet left fringe."

Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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