John Berry Explains It All: Gay Rights Coming, And No ‘Deal’ Between White House and HRC


As the director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry oversees some 1.9 million federal employees. He’s also the highest ranking open homo. Which means plenty of pressure falls on this fella — both from the gay community (as someone looking out for them in the upper echelons of government) and the White House (as someone they can use as a pawn in relations with the gays). But as he tells it, there’s no smoke-filled back room strategy sessions going on between leaders of Gay Inc. and the White House to broker gay rights deals. And all those promises Obama made us? He’ll keep ’em! Eventually.

Berry — with the okay from the White House — denies Obama and the Human Rights Campaign cut a deal to pass hate crimes legislation and workplace anti-discrimination measures while holding off on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Does that get Joe Solmonese off the hook?

He also laid out, in what’s perhaps the most clear explanation yet, the White House’s basic strategy on gay rights. It goes like this, according to words exchanged between Berry and The Advocate:

Our first hope is that we will get our federal house in order and ensure that no discrimination exists in the federal work place against any of the LGBT community. [Note: This presumably pertains to the fact that transgender workers are still not protected by the federal government’s nondiscrimination policy, though gay employees are covered.]

Second, we want to make sure that we get the benefits for the LGBT community that are equal to all other benefits provided to other federal employees, and where we have the authority to move forward, the president is going to be announcing something in the very near future that is going to be a very significant announcement in that regard. Where it requires legislation, we will seek and support it.

We have four broad legislative goals that we want to accomplish and legislation is one of these things where you’ve got to move when the opportunity strikes, so I’m going to list them in an order but it’s not necessarily going to go one, two, three, four. Obviously, I think the first opportunity is hate crimes and we’re hopeful that we can get that passed this week. We’re going to try, but if not, we’re going to keep at it until we get it passed. The second one ENDA, we want to secure that passage of ENDA, and third is we want to repeal legislatively “don’t ask don’t tell,” and fourth, we want to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Now, I’m not going to pledge — and nor is the president — that this is going to be done by some certain date. The pledge and the promise is that, this will be done before the sun sets on this administration – our goal is to have this entire agenda accomplished and enacted into law so that it is secure.

From Berry’s words, it sounds like the White House plans on making good on its promises to GLBTs, going from what it judges the most doable all the way down to the most difficult. And while Berry doesn’t want to put that in a chronological list, we will: Hate crimes protection, then employee protection, then DADT, then DOMA. Which is all well and good — actually, it’s beyond terrific if Obama truly plans on making these steps — but communicating this strategy to us has been a long time coming.

As for last week’s horrendous defense of DOMA from the Department of Justice, Berry sadly joins the apologist club:

This president took a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and he does not get to decide and choose which laws he enforces. He has to enforce the laws that have been enacted appropriately and that he has inherited. It would be wrong for me or any of our community to advise him to lie or to shirk his responsibility. He’s doing his job. He has made clear that he stands for the repeal of DOMA. It will be part of this administration’s agenda to accomplish that act. We ought not waste energy and angst attacking him when we should be focusing the energy and effort on getting 218 votes in the house and 60 votes in the Senate, and that’s where we ought to target the energy and the strength of this community and this president is with us, this is our agenda and it’s his agenda.

Apparently condemning the community, pulling the incest card, and going overboard to demean gay Americans is part of the president “just doing his job.” Replace “people of color” or “women” or “the physically disabled” with the DOJ’s remarks about why gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married and the pictures grows more clear: Obama isn’t doing his job; he is actively endorsing discrimination.

His duty to uphold the Constitution, meanwhile, includes a little phrase that reads “equal protection under the law.” He’s not only failing in that department, he’s actively lobbying for why he shouldn’t have to do it.

So when Berry says Obama doesn’t get to pick and choose which laws he upholds, he’s wrong: Obama gets to pick the Constitutional laws to uphold, and disregard everything else that violates civil rights.