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Politics and Government

DiNapoli calls for changes to federal government rules for same sex couples

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is trying to use the power of the pension fund to increase equal rights for same sex married couples, and has written a letter to President Obama.

DiNapoli is asking Obama to add a “place of celebration” clause to federal government rules and regulations that define benefits for married couples. He says that way, if one member of the couple works for a federal government agency or program, same sex marriages performed in New York and other states where it is legal could be recognized in states that do not allow gay marriages.

DiNapoli says the change would be significant and could affect many private employers across the nation, because corporations often look to the federal government for guidance when they set up their policies for providing benefits to workers and their spouses.

“One of the ways that the companies avoid providing equal benefits is to say that federal law prohibits them,” DiNapoli said.

He says the recent Supreme Court ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, has opened up a window to make changes. The court struck down a key provision of DOMA and said some federal benefits like Social Security payments or the right to file joint tax returns could no longer be denied to legally married same-sex couples.

Nathan Schaeffer, with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights group Pride Agenda, praises what he says is DiNapoli’s innovation.

“We think it’s great,” said Schaeffer, who calls it a "creative way to direct the federal government to recognize same sex marriages across the country."  

The comptroller has been criticized in some corners for using the pension fund to advance political ends. DiNapoli has influenced corporations to make greater disclosure of political campaign contributions, and he divested some stock in gun companies after the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  The New York Post called DiNapoli’s attempt to influence gay marriage policy “Tomfoolery.” But DiNapoli says conservatives praised him when he divested funds in companies that did business in Iran and the Sudan.

He also says his decisions are ultimately based on what’s best for the long term health of the state’s $160 billion pension fund.

“We always tie it back to our fiduciary responsibility, and how we are protecting our investment,” DiNapoli said.  

And, he says, nondiscriminatory policies are simply good corporate practice.