White House Changes LGBT Civil Rights Commitments On Web Site
April 30th, 2009
Several readers contacted us to point out that there was a radical change to the White House’s page of Civil Rights commitments for LGBT people. Where once there was a detailed eight-point commitment to improving LGBT rights in America, there is now only this three paragraph statement:
- The President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers.
President Obama recognizes that our civil rights laws and principles are at the core of our nation. He has spent much of his career fighting to strengthen civil rights – as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, Illinois State Senator, U.S. Senator, and now as President. He knows that our country grows stronger when all Americans have access to opportunity and are able to participate fully in our economy.
Strengthen Anti-Discrimination Laws
On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act to ensure that all Americans receive equal pay for equal work. The President is committed to expanding funding for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to ensure that voting rights are protected and Americans do not suffer from increased discrimination during a time of economic distress. President Obama also continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Lead Criminal Justice Reform
The President will lead the fight to build a more fair and equitable criminal justice system. He will seek to strengthen federal hate crime legislation and will work to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies do not resort to racial profiling. He supports funding for drug courts, giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, if appropriate, in drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than prison terms in changing behavior. President Obama will also improve ex-offender employment and job retention strategies, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling so ex-offenders can successfully re-join society.
On Inauguration Day, we were pleasantly surprised to see a much more comprehensive list of objectives. The latest updates represent a deep dissapointment. Missing from the new page is any mention of promoting meaningful AIDS prevention and the enactment of the Microbicides Development Act to empower women to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The latter, strictly speaking, isn’t necessarily an LGBT issue. But given all that we’ve been through the past quarter century, I think it’s safe to say that the LGBT community is very sensitive to how HIV/AIDS affects everyone. And given the neglect from many previous administrations to domestic HIV/AIDS initiatives, many in the LGBT community look at commitments like this as a possible bellwether.
Also gone from the web page is Obama’s campaign promise to repeal the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” This was one area in which then-Sen. Obama set himself apart from Sen. Hillary Clinton during the race to capture the Democratic nomination. Obama was among the few who called for the full repeal of DOMA. Sen. Clinton, for example, only advocated a partial repeal. Seeing DOMA missing altogether from the re-vamped web site is particularly disturbing.
And then there’s the mention of “changing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in a sensible way.” That looks like a clear backtrack from his earlier promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This critical change only serves to reinforce growing suspicions that the administration is backing away from this important, high-profile promise. [Update: The line has now been changed to "He supports repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way..."]
It’s unclear how much of this represents a genuine policy shift, or just a reshuffling of the web site’s focus. A letter sent to Joe.My.God suggests the latter. But whatever the case may be, we will continue to hold the Obama administration accountable to the promises he made throughout his campaign and confirmed on Inauguration Day. In case there’s any confusion as to what was originally promised, I’ve reproduced those original commitments below.
Support for the LGBT Community
“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
Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma — too often tied to homophobia — that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.