New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton looks set to mend her topsy-turvy relationship with the gay community after backing same sex partner rights to insurance benefits.

Mrs Clinton, who has previously been criticised for opposing same sex marriage, has put her name down as a sponsor for a bill brought forward by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.

The proposal would give benefits to same sex partners in committed relationships who live together and are responsible for each other’s welfare.

Currently only 13 US states provide same sex benefits for state employees, these are Illinois, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia also offers domestic partner benefits to its employees.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act would provide benefits to federal employees’ same-sex partners on the same basis as spousal benefits. These benefits would include participation in retirement schemes, compensation for work injuries and life and health insurance. In addition, the bill would subject federal employees with domestic partners to the same obligations as federally recognised married couples.

It has been welcomed by the Human Rights Campaign, president Joel Solmonese said: “It is time for the federal government to become competitive in the job market, where domestic partner benefits enable top companies to attract and retain the best employees possible.”

As of 2006, over half of the Fortune 500 companies provide health benefits for their employees’ domestic partners. Moreover, a recent report by HRC found that the America’s largest companies are increasingly competing to be the most gay-friendly. Providing gay and lesbian federal employees the same family security as their straight counterparts would bring the federal government in line with America’s largest and most successful corporations.

Mrs Clinton’s views are important as she is currently running for re-election to the Senate in next month’s poll and is touted as a potential Democrat presidential candidate for 2008.

She is known to support civil unions, a similar system to the British civil partnership scheme.

However, she continues to support the Defence of Marriage Act, enacted by her husband that maintains that marriages must be between partners of the opposite sex.

She opposes moves to create a constitutional amendment that permanently rules out gay marriage.