Monday, June 28, 2010

We Are Family ... Under the FMLA

(Thanks to ENC Communication Intern Matthew McGibney.)

There’s been another recent step in the right direction from Washington, where the Labor Department extended the Family and Medical Leave Act to gay couples.

The 1993 law allows workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to take care of themselves or their families, but it had only been applied to straight couples.

The Labor Department said last week it interprets the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow an employee to take leave to care for any child for whom that employee is the primary caregiver, “regardless of the legal or biological relationship.” This means it now applies to gay couples. This is the latest in a series of small administrative steps the Obama administration has taken to be more LGBT-inclusive.

The FMLA covers all public employers, as well as private employers with at least 50 employees. It was designed to help workers balance their work and family lives by giving them some unpaid time off to deal with family or personal emergencies.

While this new policy will be good for gay employees, there are also questions about its effectiveness. This is not an act of Congress, and a less friendly administration in the future could easily overturn the provision. It would take a permanent alteration to the law to secure these rights more permanently.

Chris Geidner, a writer for MetroWeekly, points out another issue with the policy. According to his article, it “will be limited to an expansion related to individuals who are the non-legal, non biological parents of their same-sex partner's children.” This would not include legally-recognized gay couples because the so-called Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage” and “spouse” as between opposite-sex couples, and this policy change would have to be in accordance with federal law.

Geidner continues, “The changes … also would apply if one's partner is having a child that is not the person's child biologically or legally or if a person's same-sex partner is adopting a child and the person, due to state law, doesn't have a legal relationship to that child.”

This is certainly a victory, small though it may be, toward equality. Any advance in equal rights lays the foundation for future successes, hopefully ones more solidly codified in law.

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