As the GOP reels, the time to secure LGBT rights is sooner rather than later.
By Steve Charing
Much has been debated recently among LGBT activists regarding the timing of pro-LGBT initiatives that can be undertaken by the Democratic-controlled Congress and an ostensibly gay-friendly president.
Should President Barack Obama expend political capital now, while he’s popular, to pursue key LGBT legislation? Or, should he defer these bold, challenging moves until he accumulates a larger cache of IOUs?
Such measures would entail a repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. It would also involve a push for an all-inclusive federal employment non-discrimination legislation (ENDA) and adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a comprehensive hate crimes bill.
Right now, the president remains popular with polls generally indicating that 60 to 70 percent of the American people approve of his job performance. They also, by large numbers, have a great deal of confidence in Mr. Obama despite his rocky first two months in office highlighted by a sinking economy and his desire to spend its way out of the muck.
Couple that with the unabated plunging of the Republican Party. The GOP is essentially leaderless and bankrupt of any ideas. They are losing the PR war by being effectively (and accurately) portrayed as the "Party of No." There have been dust-ups between recently elected Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele and the blustery but influential radio blowhard, Rush Limbaugh, as well as other key players within the party.
People around the U.S. and the world, for that matter, cringe at the nightmarish notion that if fortunes were reversed, John McCain would be floundering in an attempt to figure the way out of the economic morass. Sarah Palin, as vice-president, would be supervising an economic stimulus to nowhere with a chronic chorus of "Thanks, but no thanks." And the Secretary of the Treasury would be none other than the potential Nobel Prize winner in Economics (in his mind, at least) Joe the Plumber. Yikes!
It’s no wonder the good folks of America will continue provide President Obama with a very long leash to see this mess through. He has already accumulated a ton of good will, as evidenced by the gaudy poll results. And the alternative is downright frightening.
However, if history has taught us anything, nothing lasts forever. Mr. Obama could stumble as the economy tumbles more. He could be accused of allowing "bonus-gate" to erode an already low trajectory for consumer confidence. There could be an international crisis—somewhere, anywhere. Patience could easily wear thin. Joe Biden, God love him, could stand before a bank of microphones. Anything can happen that could derail this presidency.
That is why I conclude that the President and Congress should act swiftly on these LGBT initiatives. Indeed, a bill has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Moreover, a lawsuit by Major Margaret Witt is challenging the Air Force's attempt to discharge her under the policy. Observers see this as the rubber meeting the road for the President; he must weigh in on the issue now, as events will have forced his hand.
Barack Obama has promised support for the other key lgbt issues during his campaign, and we should be confident he will come through for us. He started off on the right foot by agreeing to formally endorse a United Nations declaration calling for an end to discrimination and other human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The action reversed President Bush’s refusal to sign off on the statement—the only Western country not to do so.
The President’s sway in Congress will, of course, be determined not just by poll numbers, but also by his ability to build consensus within the Democratic Party and reach across the aisle.
President Obama has already demonstrated that he can walk and chew gum at the same time.
While the economy is and should remain on the front burner, the President has delved into other issues that he sees as major components of his agenda, such as energy, health care and education.
That effort should continue with the LGBT matters that have been languishing in Congress for years, and in some cases, decades. Fear of being perceived as pro-gay has handcuffed many in Congress for too long.
This is a new day in America, however. We have a popular, compassionate and intelligent President who doesn’t flinch at accepting responsibility unlike his horrific predecessor.
Surveys continue to show increasing support for LGBT rights, especially in employment and in the military, so Congress ought to "man up" for a change and take on these important LGBT initiatives.
And Mr. Obama should use his current positive standing with the American people to promote and support LGBT non-discrimination now because who knows how long the window of opportunity will remain open?