Obama Promises, Then Punts, on LGBT Rights

Amanda Marcotte

Obama and the Democrats, the ostensible allies of LGBT tax-paying citizens, have repeatedly chickened out and sold out gay rights whenever flashed an opportunity to pander. And we're sick of it.

Last week, pretty much every single blogger on the Internet
who focuses on LGBT rights posted a link to a website called Obama’s Plan For Gay Rights.  When you clicked the link, you saw a parody
of the Obama campaign logo that simply said, "There Isn’t One."  With that, years, or really decades of
culminated disappointment by LGBT activists and allies came to a silent, bitter
head.  The Democrats, the ostensible
allies of LGBT tax-paying citizens, have repeatedly chickened out and sold out
gay rights whenever flashed an opportunity to pander.  And we’re sick of it. 

It’s one thing to see cowardly Democrats take money and
support from gay activists and allies while moving like glaciers towards more
equality.  We don’t like it, but we
understand whenever a politician has to swear to be for equal rights in one
breath and then claim that civil unions are a suitable substitute for equal
marriage rights in the next.  Equal
marriage has a plurality of support in this country, but it’s not quite a
majority yet, and politicians, being the slimy crowd-pleasing cowards that they
are, can’t be expected not to weasel and hedge around the issue.  As long as liberal Democrats kept sending
signals that they’d support gay rights once wins were secured by activists, we
supporters of gay rights kept writing checks and figuring that’s the way the
game is played. 

Turns out that there’s a big gap, however, between passive
cowardly Democrats who don’t fight for or against gay rights and Democrats who
take cowardice to a whole new level.  The
Obama plan was to lay low and hope the gay rights issue goes away, or that’s
what it was until last week, when the Obama-led Department of Justice filed a
brief defending
the despicable Defense of Marriage Act
in vile, homophobic language,
invoking unscientific arguments comparing homosexuality to child abuse and
incest.  This, despite the fact that Obama
has repeatedly stated that he disagrees with DOMA.  The administration’s excuse is that they
have to support the laws as written, even if they disagree with them
, a
claim that’s being
publicly disputed
.  But even if the
Obama administration absolutely must defend the laws as written, it’s unlikely
that they need to resort to underhanded tactics based on right wing lies.  There is absolutely no excuse for that kind
of dishonesty. 

The outcry from gay rights groups has been loud and
dramatic.  The DNC has a fundraiser
hitting up LGBT groups planned for June 25th, and a number of big donors to the DNC are pulling out in protest. 
This includes Marty
, the Human Rights Campaign’s National Field Director, despite the
HRC’s reputation of clinging to moderation even in the face of some pretty
grave insults to the dignity of LGBT people. 

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People were already beginning to doubt the Obama
administration’s commitment to gay rights. 
Obama promised before and after the election that his administration
would repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a non-compromise offered by the Clinton
administration that supposedly allows gays to serve in the military if they
don’t come out and don’t get found out, which is to say it changed nothing at
all about the ban on gays in the military. 
But even though allowing gays in the military could be dealt with by an
executive order, just as desegregation was handled by Harry Truman in 1948,
Obama has decided to punt the issue to Congress, asking them to handle it with
a bill.  In turn, Congress punted it back
to the President, when Harry Reid asked
Obama to handle it "administratively"
.  It seems that Democrats who want LGBT money
still seem to think that touching gay rights will give them cooties.

The heavy pressure on Obama seemed to work late last week,
though, when the President signed a memo asking
for same-sex benefits for federal employees.
  At first, it felt like a victory, but intrepid
bloggers dug around and have concluded that this gesture is basically an empty
So what gives?  What could Obama
and other supposedly pro-equality Democrats be thinking?

Looking to Obama’s strategy on the other toxic culture war
topic–reproductive rights–gives us something of a clue.  It’s clear now that the administration’s
investment in "common ground" is an attempt to defuse the issue by pretending
that the mushy middle that wants to have sex but judge others for it has the
moral high ground.  So we give the middle
what they want, which is basically a right to have birth control and abortion
for themselves but a lot of public hand-wringing over how someone else is a bad
girl for having an abortion.  The common
ground strategy has proven to be the sort of thing politicians dream about,
where they can have their cake and eat it too, and so of course the
administration is going to flail around trying to find a similar magic bullet
to defuse the gay rights issue.  But
instead of actually coming up with such a magic bullet, they’re flailing
around, punting the issue and hoping no one notices.  Or worse, pandering to the right and hoping
no one notices.

I suspect strongly that the results of the Prop 8 vote in
California loom larger than they should in the administration’s decision-making.  Since California voted for Obama but against
gay rights, the long-held Democratic hope/belief that there’s a huge population
of social conservatives that just need a little push to be Democrats has gotten
a huge boost.  Visions of a permanent Democratic
majority must dance in their head as they sleep at night.  All these swing voters need are a little
gay-bashing and slut-shaming and they’ll be loyal to the Democrats in flush
economic times and recessions, right? 
And let’s face it, feminists and gay rights activists aren’t going to
vote for Republicans any time soon, so they don’t have any leverage to use
against the Democrats, do they?

If I were the Obama adminstration, though, I wouldn’t be so
sure.  It’s not just that a lot of big
money people might decide that their gay dollars would be better spent
elsewhere.  In some places, it may even
be their votes.  Republicans might be all
gods, guns, and gays in the South and parts of the Midwest, but in places like
California, they’re discovering that a little social liberalism might pull some
of those gay dollars and votes their way. 
Why else would Meghan McCain, daughter of the last Republican nominee
for President, be posing for ads
supporting gay rights, while holding out an elephant?
  Democratic dominance in states like
California isn’t a given, and if the Republicans can argue that they’re just as
pro-gay in some states as the Democrats, they’re going to start seeing gay
rights money and votes moving their way. 

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