Monday, June 25, 2007

New bill to add (gay) domestic partners to Family & Medical Leave Act

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) has introduced a bill that would include care for partners in civil unions, domestic partnerships, and same-sex marriages under the Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which requires larger employers to give people with a certain amount of service up to twelve weeks unpaid leave to care for a spouse, child or parent. (This would cover maternity leave.) Her bill, to make it more politically acceptable, would include grandparents and blood or adoptive siblings in certain cases. The story appeared on p. 12 of the June 22, 2007 Washington Blade.

Maloney said “The Family & Medical Leave Act is an extraordinarily successful measure that allows families to provide much-needed care to loved one. Current law unfairly penalizes same-sex couples who also seek to care for family members.”

The United States Department of Labor has a website on the FMLA here:

Many critics say that the FMLA is inadequate to be effective in practice, and ask why the United States cannot offer force larger employers to offer paid leave like some European countries. (Some larger companies do so, especially for maternity, for longer term associates.) This gets into a discussion about the job market, the use of contract employees, small businesses, taxes, and related topics that is hard to unscramble. Nevertheless, many international companies (including insurance giant ING, from which I was “retired” in a settlement at the end of 2001 in a downsizing) have been able to be competitive in Europe. I did not ever use the FMLA, but I was in a circumstance in 1999 when I might have been pressured to use it.

In practice, people with families and kids have tended to take more leave than single people, an issue discussed by Elinor Burkett in her 2000 book "The Baby Boon" (review). In a salaried, exempt environment, sometimes people do not get paid for overtime in which they fill in for those needing family leave. This has become a cause of hidden resentment on both sides -- equal pay for equal work, the idea that childless or single people are available "at a discount," which can undermine labor agreements, encourage "lowballing" and contribute to layoffs.

The new underbelly of all of this discussion, of course, is eldercare, which many GLBT people are starting to face (the problem is increasing exponentially compare to the experience of past decades), and which childless people suddenly are shocked by the demands of. The FMLA does cover caring for parents, but people who had not born their own children may not be prepared for the “sacrifice” (although in past generations childless adults stayed close to home just for this reason). From a psychological point of view, it is much easier to fight for one’s family if one (because of personal competitiveness and/or personal emotional connectedness or balance) had children oneself (and to get more help in doing so). The FMLA is partly about meeting obligations to those one does not necessarily choose to have a responsibility toward, as well as to spouses and children. GLBT psychology has sometimes involved being able to make one’s own absolute choices about what one will care about in others, and the eldercare crisis certainly challenges this psychology, and even raises spiritual questions about how much control one should have of one’s life (individual sovereignty) and how one is judged in religious terms involving salvation. This is one of the reasons why homosexuality and religion presents such a divisive conflict, and why some people perceive homosexuality as a challenge to the idea of the value of human life for its own sake (2 posts down).

Correlated posting: USA Today begins major series on eldercare June 25.

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