Despite 20 Years of Progress, Family and Medical Leave Act Fails to Protect Gay and Transgender Families

Center for American Progress
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February 6, 2013

In today’s economy workers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick partner, spouse, or child. That’s why 20 years ago today, Congress approved and then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993—landmark legislation that allows some workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to recover from a serious illness, care for a seriously ill family member, or stay at home following the birth or adoption of a child. Since its passage, the Family and Medical Leave Act has provided millions of workers the basic protections and safeguards they need to balance their responsibilities as workers with their responsibilities as mothers, fathers, partners, and spouses. While the act provides a critical safety net for our nation’s workers, the law currently does not afford gay and transgender workers the protections and safeguards they need to care for themselves and their families.* Specifically, the Family and Medical Leave Act does not require employers to grant leave to a worker with an ill same-sex partner or spouse, even though it requires employers to do so for workers with different-sex spouses. Sadly, far too many workers with same-sex partners or spouses risk losing income, or in the worst case, their job, in order to take care of a loved one due to the lack of sufficient protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Transgender workers also face a number of obstacles in accessing unpaid job-protected leave for what is otherwise considered medically necessary care.