Saying it could weaken traditional marriage, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, led GOP opposition at a hearing Wednesday to a bill that would give insurance benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
"I believe in the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman," he said. "I don't think we should try to create something under a different name."
Although Chaffetz is a freshman, he is the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia, which held the hearing.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., an openly gay member of Congress, said she introduced the bill to give benefits to gay federal employees living in "domestic partnerships" to help recruit workers, and to give gays the same benefits that traditional married couples enjoy.
"Some federal employees do not receive equal pay and benefits for their equal contributions, and the government is not keeping pace with the leading private-sector employers in recruiting and retaining top talent," she testified.
John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management who also said he is living in a domestic partnership, said the Obama administration "wholeheartedly endorses passage of this bill." He added that the government is losing qualified gays to private companies that offer insurance for their partners.
But Chaffetz said Republicans have concerns about what that may do to traditional marriage.
"Marriage by another name is a concern to me, and I think to a majority of Americans," Chaffetz said. "I, like most people in this country, am in favor of preserving traditional marriage."
But much of his criticism of the bill took an unusual tack by complaining, "This bill is directly discriminatory against heterosexual couples" who choose not to marry but still live together.
But Baldwin said that heterosexual couples "have the opportunity to marry, so the situation is easily cured if they want to seek those benefits." She said gay couples do not have that option in most states, and federal law prohibits recognizing gay marriages even in states where it is allowed.
Chaffetz also questioned whether the federal government really needs to offer benefits to gay couples to attract employees at a time of high unemployment. "Can you name one" area where recruitment is a problem, he asked Berry.
"Oh, absolutely. Right now we give direct-hire authority for veterinarians, doctors, nurses, engineers, the list goes on and on because we cannot effectively recruit in those professions," he said.
"If a federal agency finds a nurse, if one walked in the door and she proved she was qualified, they could hire her in the morning because we can't find them. We can't fill those jobs," he said.
Chaffetz doubted him. "I find this an overall creeping generalization to say we have these big, gaping holes when our unemployment is north of 9.5 percent. … I don't see it."
Chaffetz also said defining what a domestic partnership is could be a problem. But Baldwin said the many private companies and local and state governments that offer benefits to them have not had difficulty with that.
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