When Barack Obama was elected as the country’s 44th president, there was great hope amongst the LGBT community and their supporters that things would change. Gone were the days of Bush, Cheney (who, weirdly enough, turned out to be a pretty big pro-gay guy recently) and the like. In was the shining savior of the gay community, ready to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and advance the cause of equality. Six months and a number of disgruntled LGBT supporters later, we get this:
President Barack Obama signed an executive order granting some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees Wednesday, calling it “a historic step” but promising more action to come.
“We’ve got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally, to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms and to bring about that more perfect union,” Obama said.
The signing followed sharp criticism of the president over a Justice Department motion filed last week in support of the Defense of Marriage Act — which effectively bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.
Obama said he still wants to repeal the act.
“I believe it’s discriminatory. I think it interferes with state’s rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it,” he said.
Then do it. With many gay activists growing impatient with the president’s seemingly blind eye toward “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (even as valuable Arabic-speaking linguists were discharged from the military) and his Justice Department’s newfound knack for churning out pro-DOMA memos, the Obama administration had to throw them a bone – and this was the best they could do. In case you missed the horribly significant reforms made by the president in the aforementioned memo, let’s break it down:
The memorandum he signed Wednesday means same-sex partners of civil service employees can be added to the long-term care program, employees can use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and children and same-sex partners of Foreign Service employees will be included in medical evacuations and housing allocations, according to the White House.
But it does not cover full health-care coverage, which would require an act of Congress, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Then do it. Look, I’m all for equality under the law (yay, 14th Amendment!) and I realize that every little bit helps, but I need to see the White House throwing a little more skin in the game before I will be convinced that there really is “more action to come.” The worst part is that this isn’t just a matter of gays getting married anymore: there are bigger fish in the fryer now too. National security — how can we possibly operate an effective counterinsurgency strategy if we’re kicking out all the guys that speak said insurgents’ language? And that doesn’t even begin to breach the constitutional ramifications — 14th Amendment, equal protection, states’ rights, etc. The whole issue is a mess — one that we hired Obama to clean up.
Now I realize the man has a lot on his plate right now and that gay rights wasn’t a central plank of his campaign. I also understand the political side of the coin: Obama is currently very popular and possesses a great deal of political capital, but his supply is by no means infinite. He’s loading up his guns for a bitter and divisive health care battle this summer and expending capital on equally divisive social issues is probably not his top priority. He can’t do everything at once, but he can do more: He’s got 60 seats (with Franken) in the Senate.
Don’t play softball. Don’t back down at the mere threat of a filibuster from a minority party on political life support. Keep them honest: make the old duffers stand and read the phone book for 14 hours. Test their mettle. But don’t run away scared of Mitch McConnell and his ever-shrinking Gang of 40. Obama has the power here — elections have consequences.
The economy has been Priority #1, and rightfully so. Health care cannot wait and I understand that. But Obama has often been quoted as saying that presidents should be able to juggle multiple initiatives at the same time — and now is the time to juggle. He will never have more power and influence than he has right now, and he should use it to benefit an oft-ignored group that represents a key part of his winning electoral coalition.
They know he understands and believes in the changes that need to be made; now they just want to see him do it.
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