The Obama Plan for Gay Rights (And What He Really Means)

President-Elect Barack Obama has posted his plan for LGBT Rights on the Change.gov website and it’s pretty comprehensive. It is by far, the most far-ranging civil rights agenda for the gay community ever offered by a President. Because the page is swathed in a combination of hopey vagueness and legislation you may have never heard of, here’s a translation of the plan from Obamican to English:

Expand Hate Crimes Legislation
Obama supports the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act

In a separate section of the site, Obama offers support for the Matthew Shepard Act, which would significantly expand the 1969 Hate Crime law, give $10 million to law enforcement to investigate hate crimes and direct the FBI to track crimes made against LGBT people. The bill passed the House and the Senate in 2007 and was attatched to a defense spending bill as an ammendment. When Bush threatened a veto, the bill was dropped. The bill has widespread support in Congress and at the state-level, so with Obama’s support, this bill will most likely pass.

Fight Workplace Discrimination

Obama wants to sign The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) comes in two flavors: Transgender and Transgender-Free. After watching ENDA fail, Congressman Barney Frank introduced a version of the bill into the House that did not provide protect against discrimination based on gender identity. It passed 235-184 and set off a small war within the gay community. Obama says he supports the version of ENDA that includes gender identity. With the new composition of the House, Frank would be inviting a firestorm if he chooses to introduce a version of the law that doesn’t include transgender protection.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples

Obama wants to repeal DOMA and create federal recognition for civil unions.

In the wake of Prop. 8, Obama’s position will please some in the gay community and anger others. Anyone who supports marriage equality will want to see the Defense of Marriage Act repealed. Not only does it prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriages in other states, it prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages anywhere. It set off a wave of mini-DOMA’s which were enacted in states across the country. It may not be Constitutional. It’s really bad, see?

The question of civil unions is a thorny one. Many (including Queerty) feel that creating a special class that confers the same rights as another institution for the sole purpose of excluding a group of people is both unconstitutional and immoral. That is, some of us will only accept equal rights under marriage.

Anti-marriage-equality advocates are also aware of this and with the Supreme Court composition likely to drift back to the center over the next several years, the fear is that civil unions are just a step on the way to legally recognizing gay marriages. With both the gay community split on the issue and conservatives looking to kill anything which would confer rights to gay Americans, the battle for federally recognized civil unions would be an uphill one.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage
Obama won’t support the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Politically, this position is only slightly harder than kissing a baby and offering “change”. The Federal Marriage Amendment exists for one reason only– to help conservative Republicans get elected. The measure has limited support, would never pass Congress and would never get the votes from U.S. state legislatures needed to enact it.

Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell
Obama might appeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell if military commanders okay it.

The key phrase here is that Obama “will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy.” Obama is unlikely to make a decision without support from the Pentagon, which is not keen on the idea of repealing Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell. This is smart. Bill Clinton tried to get gays in the military without getting military support and Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell was the compromise that resulted after commanders accused Clinton of putting the troops in danger.

The policy has been a disaster: Over 11,000 soldiers have been discharged from the military for disclosing their sexuality, with ‘disclosure’ being a term that includes things like writing a letter to your partner. Whether or not Obama moves quickly on the issue, he is promising to change the policy, which counts for something. If 2012 rolls around and it’s still in place, the gay community should hold him accountable.

Expand Adoption Rights
Obama offers no promises.

Obama’s position is that gay parents deserve the same rights as straight parents, but offers up no new ideas or support for existing legislation.

Promote AIDS Prevention

Obama will direct his administration to develop a comprehensive national strategy to deal with HIV/AIDS. He supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange programs and intends to speak publicly about HIV/AIDS related issues.

The only real meat to this position is Obama’s support in lifting the ban on needle exchanges. That said, the vague “national AIDS strategy” could be something really large and extensive, or it could be three cubicles on Constitution Ave. He offers a laundry-list of things he seeks to promote: better safe sex education, education and contraception availability and there’s no reason for him to lie. George Bush spent over $48 billion to combat AIDS in Africa and only a stupid politician would stand in the way of HIV/AIDS-related policies.

Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS

Obama supports the Microbicide Development Act

This is a pet project of Senate Democratic leaders like Obama, Clinton, and Dodd. The number of women who are infected with HIV has quadrupled in the last decade. The bill mentions that “In Sub-Saharan Africa, 76 percent of the young people (between ages 15 and 24) with HIV are girls under 20.”

The bill would directed the National Institute of Health to set up a research arm focused on microbiocides, which could be administered as a cream, vaginal ring or other easy-to-apply method and prevent the spread of HIV among women, who are often at risk from infection by their own husbands. This bill would benefit women in the U.S. as well, but it is focused specifically as a way to address AIDS in Africa– a reminder that AIDS is not a gay issue, but a human issue.

What do you think? Is Obama promising enough? Too little? How much of this do you expect to see happen?