Lieberman Proposes Gay Partners Benefit Package

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman said Monday that he will push a Senate bill that would extend benefits to partners of gay federal employees.

The legislation would give domestic partners the same benefits available to spouses of federal employees, including life and health insurance, retirement pay and compensation for on-the-job injuries. Domestic partners could be gay or straight, as long as they file an affidavit saying they are living together in a committed, intimate relationship, but are not married.

The legislation was introduced last year by Minnesota's Democratic Sens. Mark Dayton and Paul Wellstone, who died last fall in a plane crash. Lieberman, who is running for president, said he will pick up where Wellstone left off in pressing for the bill.

The measure must be reintroduced in this session of Congress. It will be referred to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, where Lieberman is the ranking Democrat, but it faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Congress.

"If it doesn't get done in the next two years, I intend to introduce and sign it as president of the United States," Lieberman said in a speech to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Lieberman is one of nine Democrats seeking the presidency. One of his opponents, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, was a co-sponsor of the legislation. Another candidate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, signed a civil union bill that allows gay couples to receive all the rights available to married couples under state law.

Lieberman told the audience that although tremendous progress in civil rights has been made in the last 40 years, much work is unfinished. He called for an end to racial profiling, support for affirmative action, equal pay for women and protection of abortion rights.

"Conservative politicians -- and indeed conservative political leaders with all due respect -- have no monopoly on moral values," he said.

Separately, the Lieberman campaign announced Monday that it will operate from dual headquarters -- one in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Va., and another in Hartford, Conn. The campaign also includes offices in early primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina and fund-raising offices in Florida, California and New York.

The Dean campaign, meanwhile, announced that its manager, Rick Ridder, is stepping down as of April 15, leaving the position vacant for now. Ridder will return to his Denver home and his firm will continue to consult for Dean's candidacy, the campaign said in a statement.