Obama and Gay Rights: John Berry at OPM

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On March 3rd, President Obama announced his intent to nominate John Berry, the current director of the National Zoo and former assistant Interior secretary under President Clinton as the Director of the Office of Personnel Management. This makes Mr. Berry the highest-ranking openly gay appointee in history, in charge of managing the 1.8 civil service employees of the Federal government. And while this may seem like a small consolation for some gay activists in the U.S., frustrated by Rev. Rick Warren’s invitation to speak at the inauguration or the President’s call for patience on DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it is a huge shift in executive policy towards gay rights. Unlike many private-sector employees, federal civil servants do not enjoy domestic partnership rights and their partners cannot participate in federal health care programs, unlike the spouses of heterosexual federal employees. Director Berry will not have the authority to change federal policy towards domestic partnership benefits, he can reverse the OPM’s opposition (under President Bush) to congressional efforts to expand the rights of GLBT federal employees. Joe Solomonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, reacted to the announcement saying “the selection of John Berry to head the Office of Personnel Management is a meaningful step forward for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In his new role, John will make critical decisions regarding the implementation of fair workplace policies for millions of federal workers.”

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