President Obama Signs the Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits
June 17th, 2009
By the way, the older gentleman who President Obama handed the pen to is longtime gay activist Frank Kameny. Frank became an activist when he was fired by the Army Map service in 1957 when his superiors learned that he was gay. Frank quickly became a no-holds barred activist, participating in the very first picket line in front of the White House in 1965. He coined the phrase “Gay Is Good” in 1968. To many gays and lesbians who hadn’t before dared to believe that about themselves, that phrase was a bold and radical gesture. The impact of those three simple words is incalculable. Today, Frank points to that simple act as his most proud accomplishment.
But his accomplishments didn’t end there. He became the first openly gay candidate for Congress in 1971 (he lost), and he played a pivotal role in the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 (he won). Franks papers are now a part of the Smithsonian’s collection, and his home in Washington was designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board in honor of his activism.
Whatever criticisms we all have about Obama’s timidity in LGBT rights as well as the grievous injury stemming from his Justice Department’s DOMA brief, it is good to pause and savor this moment for one important hero. The man who was fired by the federal government because he was gay is now a witness to a president signing a memorandum addressing limited benefits for gay employees.
History sometimes takes a very long time. And it’s not even close to being over yet.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, today I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality.
Many of our government’s hard-working, dedicated, and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason — the people that they love are of the same sex.
Currently, for example, LGBT federal employees can’t always use sick leave to care for their domestic partners or their partners’ children. Their partners aren’t covered under long-term care insurance. Partners of American Foreign Service officers abroad aren’t treated the same way when it comes to the use of medical facilities or visitation rights in case of an emergency.
These are just some of the wrongs that we intend to right today.
In consultation with Secretary of State Clinton, as well as OPM Director John Berry, my administration has completed a long and thorough review to identify a number of areas where we can extend federal benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service and executive branch government employees.
I’m requesting that Secretary Clinton and Director Berry do so where possible under existing law — and that the heads of all executive departments and agencies conduct reviews to determine where they may do the same.
Hundreds of Fortune 500 companies already offer such benefits not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because they recognize that it helps them compete for and retain the best possible talent — and we need top talent serving their country right now more than ever.
Now, under current law, we cannot provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
That’s why I’m proud to announce my support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, crucial legislation that will guarantee these rights for all federal employees.
I want to thank Representative Tammy Baldwin, who is behind me somewhere — there she is, right there — for her tireless leadership on this bill and in the broader struggle for equality. I want to thank Senator Joe Lieberman — Joe is here — as well as Susan Collins for championing this bill in the Senate; and Representative Barney Frank for his leadership on this and so many other issues — in fact, this is his second trip to the White House today. (Laughter.)
It’s a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step. Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it’s discriminatory, I think it interferes with states’ rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it.
We’ve got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally; to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms; and to bring about that more perfect union. I’m committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come.
Thank you very much everybody, and with that I am going to sign this executive order.