Friday, January 23, 2009

Snubs Aside, Obama Will Do Right by Us

By Steve Charing

On the road to the election and inauguration of Barack Obama, there had been great hope accumulating throughout the LGBT community that for the first time, a U.S. President will be on our side.

That road had hit a speed bump when Barack Obama selected anti-gay Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural’s Invocation. Team Obama underestimated the strong reaction by gay activists that was carried in the mainstream media.

But the president-elect did not back down. This episode sullied the inauguration celebration and gave pause to what I believe is a monumental shift in the struggle for LGBT rights.

There were other missteps as well. Candidate Obama had allowed gospel singer Donnie McLurkin—an anti-gay, ex-gay—to join him during the South Carolina primary campaign. Mr. Obama then apologized.

Candidate Obama maintained his opposition to same-sex marriage during the Saddleback Church interviews conducted by none other than Rick Warren.

Candidate Obama did not forcefully speak out against Proposition 8 that snatched marriage rights already granted to thousands of same-sex couples in California.

No openly gay or lesbian had been appointed to a cabinet-level position.

The inaugural committee somehow botched up the schedule, which kept openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson’s speech from being heard by millions of HBO viewers.

Yet despite all these snubs, President Obama should be a champion for LGBT folks unlike any other president in history. Hopefully, we can, from here on out, praise the new president instead of criticizing him.

The euphoria that enveloped the nation and the world leading up to and including the days immediately following the historic inauguration will last longer than most. Given these turbulent times, that’s saying something. While some LGBT activists bemoaned the fact we were never mentioned during the 20-minute inaugural address, that’s quite alright. It wasn’t the place or the time.

President Obama emphasized accountability in government during the speech. The days immediately following the inauguration, he immediately demonstrated that.

His swift actions on closing trials at Guantanamo, issuing ethics orders, meeting as promised with his top military brass to end the war in Iraq and other measures signified to me that he will keep his campaign pledges.

And President Obama followed through with his campaign promises to the lgbt community by posting, in fairly good detail, his positions on most of the issues that are important to the lgbt community to the official White House website,

He called the section "Supporting the LGBT Community," and he quoted himself as a preamble: "While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect." -- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

Beautiful words indeed.
The issues covered include: Expand Hate Crimes Statutes, Fight Workplace Discrimination, Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples, Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage, Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell, Expand Adoption Rights, Promote AIDS Prevention, Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS.

This is freakin’ huge!

No president has even come close to outlining his positions on lgbt rights, let alone favorable ones. True, President Obama hasn’t yet come around to support same-sex marriage; at least he opposes a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage to be between one man and one woman.

What is notable on the website, however, is his commitment to end DOMA—the nefarious Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. He had publicly indicated to lgbt activists during the primaries that he will not only repeal certain components of the law but will seek to repeal the entire measure.

President Obama’s position to confer over 1,100 federal benefits to same-sex couples either through civil unions or some form of partnership recognition will not be realized unless DOMA is eliminated. The law establishes a federal ban on same-sex marriage, which nullifies federal benefits and rights and permits states not to recognize same-sex marriages occurring in other states.

But as we collectively lick our chops at the prospects of these other issues going our way, we must be patient a bit longer. The economic crisis is a major challenge that must be dealt with, not to mention restoring a framework for peace throughout key hot spots in the world.

The president cannot and should not use his political capital on anything except getting his stimulus package through Congress. That’s the primary order of business.

In the past, the ill-advised expenditure of political good will was damaging. President Clinton misfired when he attempted in 1993 to end gays in the military unilaterally—a campaign pledge in its own right. A significant portion of the military, including the top brass, as well as many in Congress, distrusted Clinton on military matters. This was mainly as a result of his evading service during the Vietnam era and a generally tepid amount of warmth towards him as he took office.

President Clinton miscalculated the opposition to the initiative, and we have been stuck with the absurd policy of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" since then.

President Obama has stated he will work to build a consensus on that and other LGBT-related initiatives. Give him time to do that. He needs to get our country back on track first.

But I am certain he will make good on his word. Don’t let the initial snubs diminish our hope for a brighter rainbow in the future.

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