“Barack Obama is revelling in presidential power and influence unseen in Washington for decades,” reports Reuters. “Barely 100 days in office, the U.S. president and his Democratic Party have firm control over the White House and Congress and the ability to push through ambitious plans.” Indeed, Obama and the Dems seem to have free rein of Washington. Obama’s political capital is through the roof, which has enabled him to go after hot button issues like Cuba, and what to do about stem cells, and torture. What’s the one hot button issue that — despite all the advantages of a freshly minted president with enormous approval ratings and the political power to get shit done — Obama is avoiding? Why, gay rights.
We’ve made the case before: Just over 100 days into office, Obama has taken on many a “controversial” issue. He’s trying to save the economy, respond to swine flu, CIA-authorized torture techniques, those wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, touchy relations with Iran and North Korea, and make sure he can tuck his daughter in to bed! It’s a lot.
Much of what’s on Obama’s agenda correlates to promises he made during his presidential campaign. End the war in Iraq. Close Gitmo. Save American jobs. But he also promised gays and lesbians — and a resounding 70 percent of us believed him, and cast our Obama vote — their time for equal rights would come.
But it hasn’t. And there’s no evidence it will.
For all the influence Obama was in Washington, he’s used zero of it for gay Americans. And it’s not like everyone else is just sitting on their hands. We’ve done our part! We’ve helped make same-sex marriage legislation a priority, winning victories in Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and soon New Hampshire and Maine. We have created the most gay-tolerant and gay-friendly environment America has ever seen. All we need is Obama to pick up the reigns and take it federal.
“What makes this especially disappointing,” writes Richard Socarides in the Washington Post, “is that it comes during a crisis-driven ‘change moment’ in our country’s history that not only cries out for leadership but presents a particularly good climate for making substantial progress on gay equality.”
And yet: NOTHING. (Okay, he gets a point for supporting hate crimes legislation. Or rather, he gets a point for not bungling Congress’ effort to pass hate crimes legislation by, say, inviting an anti-gay pastor to speak at his inauguration.)
So what should be done? Socarides has some tips for Obama: Start talking about gay rights again, like he did during his campaign. (Since winning the White House, he only talks about gays when it comes to defending Rick Warren.) Sign that hate crimes legislation as quick as he can take the cap off a pen. Appoint a high-ranking openly gay policy advocate responsible for government efforts for GLBTs. And then there’s the biggie: “Obama should champion comprehensive, omnibus federal gay civil rights legislation, similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and granting a basic umbrella of protections in employment, education, housing and the like (rather than the existing piecemeal approach to legislation). Such a bill should also provide for federal recognition of both civil unions and marriages as they are authorized by specific states.”
And that — that — will be a start.
Then it’s on to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, saving our gay brothers and sisters in Iraq, and maybe even telling American moms and dads to grow up, take some responsibility, and start loving their gay children. Because Obama’s a family man.
It’s not as if there is some right way and wrong way to do this, as President Bill Clinton’s DOMA bungling might suggest. There is the political game, yes, we understand that. But then there are basic civil rights gay Americans still do not enjoy. And those don’t have a pause button. Those don’t have time for excuses.