Expanding Entitlements for Same-Sex Domestic Partners: Federal Retirement Annuities

Same-sex domestic partners would be listed in a category of persons with an assumed insurable interest for purposes of receiving a federal employee survivor’s annuity under new regulations proposed by OPM.

Same-sex domestic partners have been added to the list of people eligible to receive a survivor annuity under the federal employees’ retirement program, according to new regulations that have been proposed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The proposed rules appeared in a recent issue of the Federal Register. The proposal would amend current rules that allow retiring federal employees and Members
of Congress to elect a reduced annuity to provide an insurable interest survivor annuity.

OPM writes that the purpose of the new rule is to assume there is an insurable interest in a domestic partner of a federal employee. This means that the intent of the agency is to: “relieve federal employees with same-sex domestic partners from the evidentiary requirements in existing regulations for persons outside this class.”

In plain English, a domestic partner who is the same sex as a federal employee and meets the definition of a “domestic partner” will have the same right to federal employee retirement annuity as an opposite sex husband or wife would have.

Under the current rules, an “insurable interest” in the life of a retiring federal employee or Member of Congress is presumed to exist for these relationships: Spouses, former spouses, blood or adopted relatives closer than first cousins, common law spouses, or persons to whom employees or Members are engaged to be married.

The new regulation would also add “former same-sex domestic partner” to that list.

So, how is a same-sex domestic partner defined for purposes of receiving federal employee annuity benefits?

According to the agency, the term “same-sex domestic partner” means a person in a domestic partnership with an employee or annuitant of the same sex and the term “domestic partnership” is defined as a committed relationship between two adults, of the same  sex, in which the partners–

  • Are each other’s sole domestic partner and intend to remain so indefinitely;
  • Maintain a common residence, and intend to continue to do so or would maintain a common residence but for an assignment abroad or other employment-related, financial, or similar obstacle);
  • Are at least 18 years of age and mentally competent to consent to contract;
  • Share responsibility for a significant measure of each other’s financial obligations;
  • Are not married or joined in a civil union to anyone else;
  • Are not the domestic partner of anyone else;
  • Are not related in a way that, if they were of opposite sex, would prohibit legal marriage in the U.S. jurisdiction in which the domestic partnership was formed; and
  • Are willing to certify, if required by OPM, that they understand that willful falsification of any documentation required to establish that an individual is in a domestic partnership may lead to disciplinary action and the recovery of the cost of benefits received related to such falsification, as well as constitute a criminal violation under 18 U.S.C. 1001.

Comments are the proposal are due by April 4, 2011. To comment, e-mail combox@opm.gov. You must include RIN number 3206-AM20 in the subject line of the message.

Alternatively, you send send your comments by mail to: John Panagakos, Retirement Policy, Retirement Services, Office of Personnel Management, 1900 E. Street, NW., Washington, DC 20415-3200.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47