Obama Administration to Expand Family Medical Leave Act to Gay and Lesbian Employees

The Labor Department is poised to announce new regulations this week that order U.S. employers to give gay employees equal treatment under the law, allowing those workers unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Critics say the Obama administration is going too far. “They're trying to redefine marriage and family by these arbitrary policies with no debate by congress, no public discussion about it," says Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family.

Gay rights activists, who strongly supported President Obama’s campaign, wish the administration would go further.  “It's not repealing the defense of marriage act, it's a small step but it's an important one," says Brian Moulton of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

The announcement comes as the president declares June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender month, with an event Tuesday night at the White House to celebrate it. But even as some are ready to fete the occasion, the president is already creating a new firestorm, with his recent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day proclamations which referenced families that include “two mothers” and “two fathers,” respectively, a move conservatives criticized and called “divisive.”  Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said the president “was just trying to be inclusive of all sorts of families.”

But at an event celebrating Father’s Day on Monday, Obama talked, as he has before, about how he missed having both a father and a mother present while growing up. "He [Obama’s father] left my family when I was two years old. And while I was lucky to have a wonderful mother and loving grandparents who poured everything they had into me and my sister, I still felt the weight of that absence. It's something that leaves a hole in a child's life that no government can fill,” Obama said.

President Obama has said he does not support same-sex marriage, but Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family says the latest effort by the Labor Department is a unilateral move by the Obama White House designed to eventually bypass the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“This is just one more example of where the Obama administration is really bypassing the defense of marriage act that defines marriage as one man and one woman,” Earll told Fox News.

Moulton of HRC, a group working on behalf of the LGBT community, says the latest move by the administration is a step in the right direction, toward perhaps an eventual repeal of DOMA. “Certainly it's not medical leave to take care of a partner, it's not repealing the defense of marriage act, it's a small step but it's an important one.”

Meanwhile, it’s not just the Family Medical Leave Act the Obama administration is handling that pertains to the LGBT community. The White House is also focused on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – something the president said he would work on in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

“We would like to see it happen sooner, I think we keep moving along a pace and the Pentagon will finish its review and we are hopeful and confident president is going to move toward that certification as soon as possible,” says Moulton.

Critics feel that the military’s policy on gay service members will be one more step toward a further erosion of the Defense of Marriage Act. “The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell will set the stage for the federal government to have to recognize same sex relationships of identified gays and lesbians in the military," says Earll.

While candidate Obama was popular with the gay and lesbian community for saying he would repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," he began to run into trouble with gay and lesbian organizations once in office. In October of last year, the President had to once again affirm his pledge of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell at an annual dinner after months of what the community called stalling tactics.

"We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie, " Obama said at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner in Washington on October 10, 2009."So, I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. I will end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's my commitment to you." That statement, at the time, was met with applause from those in the room.