I’ve Changed My Mind
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
June 24th, 2009
But a cocktail party? I can’t imagine that any self-respecting gay person would agree to go to a cocktail party at this stage in our difficult relationship with the current administration…
The seeds for my turnaround were planted when I finished that sentence:
…although I have to concede that House and Senate Republicans, even some of the most conservative ones, have taken the White House up on similar invitations.
I’ve thought a lot about that since then and here’s the deal. We’ve been telling everyone we can think of about the importance of being out and being visible to our families, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers – everywhere and to everyone. The power of our presence as real live human beings rather than ill-informed stereotypes has made a huge difference in what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past few years. It seems to me that wherever there is an opportunity to make our presence known in the flesh, we should take that opportunity and run with it.
And when that opportunity extends to meeting with the President of the United States, it becomes less an opportunity and more an obligation. Presidents have a tendency to become ensconced in a bubble surrounded by like-minded aides and sycophants. As much as I believe this President is trying to keep that from happening, it’s just a natural consequence of the office. He has obviously been told by those around him that our concerns can wait, that we’re just happy he’s there, and we’ll hang in there no matter what. If nobody’s there to tell him otherwise, how is he to know any different?
True, he can turn on television and watch the talking heads, but I think we all know how well television reflects real life. Not very well at all. And if we’ve learned not to believe everything we see on television, I’m sure the President has learned that too.
No, we’ve been talking about the importance of person-to-person conversations and sharing of our lives with others. Why is it now suddenly acceptable to say that we will refuse to do so with the President?
There appears to be three main arguments against attending the White House cocktail party. The first argument is this: that those who will attend will be co-opted into a White House photo-op of Obama surrounded by His Friendly Gays. That could happen, but I doubt it. Remember all those cocktail parties that Obama threw to try to open up dialog with House and Senate Republicans? Do you remember many photographs from those events?
The second argument actually seems to run counter to the first, that because the cocktail party hasn’t been publicly announced, it’s signaling that Obama doesn’t want to be too public with His Friendly Gays. “Why the big secret?” they ask. But if it’s a big secret, then it can’t be much of a photo-op, and if it’s a photo-op, then it can’t be much of a secret. What’s the point of being surrounded by His Friendly Gays if he’s not going to show them off? But the real answer to why it hasn’t been publicly announced may be found in precedent: The previous cocktail parties weren’t big public productions either. We only started to learn about them after they occurred.
The third argument concerns His Friendly Gays themselves, and builds on the much-hated image of “A-Gays” drinking and schmoozing and not getting much done. That’s a hard image to knock down, but we do have to remember that in a town like Washington, D.C., relationships are formed and messages put across over exactly these kinds of activities. This is true in D.C. much moreso than in anywhere else, where these events are typically little more than non-work social hours.
And as for His Friendly Gays, it appears the gathering will be much broader than that. Some of those invited include some of the administration’s harsher critics on LGBT issues. One of those who will be there is Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, who is about to be fired from the Air Force for being gay. He’ll be there as a guest of the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network. The invite list isn’t limited to those from inside the Beltway, which is exactly what’s needed to punch through the Presidential bubble. They aren’t the get-along-to-go-along usual suspects, although I’m sure some of them will be there also
And besides all that, there this final point: this is the President of the United States, in capital letters. When the President calls, you go. If you have access, use it. I think Mike Rogers — and no one is going to call him a get-along slouch — put it best:
We have had 8 years of “yes men” in the White House with no dissent. No one is suggesting that people should bow before the president, but this is what we wanted, ACCESS. THIS IS PART OF THE ACCESS.
Call me SHOCKED, but I did not get invited to the Bush White House. If I was, I think I would have said the same thing. When the President of the United States says “hey come on by,” you go. Invitations to the Oval Office or the White House are not supposed to be used to get up in the President’s face, it’s the time to compellingly present your case.
I wasn’t invited either. But it wasn’t just a couple of hours after I posted my first thoughts that I began to think differently about it. Yes, if someone from the White House were to call me and invite me to get on a plane bound for Washington to meet with the President of the United States, I’d scape my jaw off the floor and go. It’s not a cool invite to the hottest party in town. It’s a call to duty as a citizen. To not take up that call is to be less of a citizen. And when we are fighting for our full rights as citizens, we should exercise our duty as citizens wherever we’re called. And now that we are given access, we either use it or squander it. Seems the choice there is pretty simple.
House Members to Obama: Don’t Pursue
June 22nd, 2009
Although now generally known as “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell”, the policy on gay servicemen signed into law sixteen years ago once also had a third don’t: “Don’t Pursue”.
Today 77 House Members (15% of the membership), including some in leadership, have requested that the President at least uphold the law as it was intended until DADT can be reversed:
The House lawmakers are asking Obama to direct the military leadership not to initiate any investigation of personnel to determine their sexual orientation and to instruct military officials to disregard any accusations made by third parties with the regard to sexual orientation of personnel.
“We request that you impose that no one is asked and that you ignore, as the law requires, third parties who tell,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) wrote. “Under your leadership, Congress must then repeal and replace don’t ask, don’t tell with a policy of inclusion and non-discrimination.”
Not exceed the law by aggressively pursuing gay service personnel based on third party gossip? Hmmm, that sounds reasonable.
Let’s see how the President will respond.
The White House Wants To Buy Us A Drink
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
June 22nd, 2009
Last week, word went out that the Justice Department will meet with LGBT groups to try to iron out how the Justice Department can go forward with future litigation with DOMA without insulting a key group of fellow Americans. I think that has the potential of being a very good move, and I’m glad LGBT advocacy groups are being invited to this working meeting. But we are also learning that the White House plans on inviting LGBT leadership to a cocktail party of some sort later in the week. I can’t think of anything more inappropriate than that.
I think Michelangelo Signorile sums it up just right. I agree that it was important for LGBT leaders to be on hand when President Barack Obama signed the president’s memorandum providing for very limited benefits for gay employees. It was, as Signorile points out, LGBT business, and we expect LGBT leaders to be on hand whenever LGBT business is being conducted. And it’s good that LGBT leaders will be meeting with the Justice Department tomorrow. Again, more business.
But a cocktail party? I can’t imagine that any self-respecting gay person would agree to go to a cocktail party at this stage in our difficult relationship with the current administration, although I have to concede that House and Senate Republicans, even some of the most conservative ones, have taken the White House up on similar invitations.
But still, I think that attending a cocktail party sends two wrong signals. One, serious business like what we’ve gone through over the past week calls for serious and frank meetings. What we need is actual movement on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and (this one was supposed to be “easy”) finally enacting the Hate Crimes bill that was supposed to have come out this week but now is more likely before Congress recesses in August, if Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid can be taken at his word. We’re looking for real movement and a plan forward, not drinks and witty reparté.
And there’s another message that I have trouble squaring. The Human Rights Campaign in particular has labored under criticisms of being too cozy with the Washington power structure, and that those cozy relationships have led the HRC to go easy on pressing for important issues like repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That’s the perception, and it’s one that the HRC may just now be growing sensitive to. This latest flap over the Justice Department’s DOMA brief led the HRC to play catch-up with grassroots anger and suspicion, and they did that by issuing an unusually sternly worded letter to the White House. If the HRC really wants to shed its image of the go-along-to-get-along Washington schmoozing machine, the worst thing they could do would be to take the White House up on this latest invitation.
It looks like, for the time being, our relationship with the Obama administration can be divided into two periods: pre-DOMA brief and post-DOMA brief. In the pre-DOMA brief days, this party would have been seen as a good sign. We would have rejoiced that the White House engaged in this symbolic act, and the HRC would have basked in the glow. But that was before the DOMA brief — and before there were cocktail invitations. That brief changed everything. One way to understand the negative reaction surrounding the presidentail memorandum is that symbolic acts no longer cut it. LGBT leaders need to be cognizant of that or risk their own relevance in the LGBT community.
Update: I’ve changed my mind.
The LGBT Community Finds Its Voice. It Turns Out It’s In Its Wallet.
June 19th, 2009
LGBT advocates have continued to express their outrage over the Justice Department’s DOMA brief. That brief has sparked a rebellion among LGBT Democrats who have continued to pull out of next week’s DNC fundraiser organized by the LGBT Leadership Conference and featuring Vice-president Joe Biden. Eleven LGBT leaders have announced that they will not attend the fundraising event. Even the Stonewall Democrats have withdrawn their support.
That has set the White House on a mad rush to try to quell the rebellion. Two top Obama aides, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and Political Director Patrick Gaspard, will hold an emergency conference call on Monday afternoon with the LGBT caucus of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The reported purpose of the call is to provide “important updates on the Administration’s LGBT agenda and how we move forward.” That move is in addition to news from earlier today that the Justice Department will meet with LGBT groups to discuss how it deals with DOMA cases going forward.
This follows President Barack Obama’s hastily called Oval Office photo-op on Wednesday to sign a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to adopt policies to treat their LGBT employees on equal footing with their other employees — although health and retirement benefits aren’t included because they are barred by federal law. The White House has also directed the Census Bureau to determine changes in its procedures to allow same-sex unions to be counted.
The White House has finally gotten the message that they have stumbled badly. After months of silence and footdragging on LGBT issues, they have now come to understand that they are on the verge of losing one of their most reliable constituencies. And so over the past three days, we’ve seen an unprecedented string of minor initiatives. None of these small steps are earth-shattering; all of them could have been thrown together at any time in the administration’s first 100 days. But the fact that they are coming out now tells us that the pressure exerted by the LGBT community this week has had an effect. It also tells us that only through continued unrelenting pressure will the White House and Congress to take our concerns seriously.
I’m glad the pressure is working and we appear to have the White House’s attention. We now need to grab Congress’s attention as well. We need to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to feel the same heat as we’ve applied to President Obama.
And we also need to put our money where it will really make a difference. Right now the best place is firmly in our own bank accounts and not in the DNC’s. They say money talks, but people really notice the silence when it’s gone missing.
DOJ Reportedly To Meet With LGBT Groups
June 19th, 2009
In the wake of the nationwide anger being expressed over the Justice Department’s insulting court brief defending the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” the Obama administration has begun to react with some very limited, short term steps to try to assuage that anger. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to adopt policies to treat their LGBT employees on equal footing with their other employees. (That memorandum, however, doesn’t include key employment benefits like health care or retirement, which are prohibited by federal law.) The White House has also directed the Census Bureau to determine changes in its procedures to allow same-sex unions to be counted.
Both steps however are very tiny steps, and they have done little to quell the outrage over the DOJ’s brief. That anger continues to threaten the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT fundraiser slated for next week.
Now The Plum Line blog is reporting that the Justice Department has scheduled a private meeting with major LGBT groups for next week:
Tracy Russo, a spokesperson for Justice, confirmed the meeting to me, after I posted below that top gay rights lawyers were miffed that administration lawyers had rebuffed their requests to meet and discuss ongoing litigation involving DOMA.
At the meeting — which hasn’t been announced and is expected to include leading gay rights groups like GLAD and Lambda Legal — both sides are expected to hash out how to proceed with pending DOMA cases.
The Justice Department is due to file another brief by June 29 in a lawsuit filed by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston’s Federal District Court on behalf of eight married couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts who have been denied federal legal protections available to spouses. That DOMA challenge, Gill v. Office of Personel Management is considered a much stronger suit than Smelt v. United States, which the recent controversial DOJ brief addressed.
I don’t know whether LGBT groups would be permitted to weigh in on Gill v. OPM specifically. But if this meeting really does happen, it does appear to be a sign that the Justice Department may try to head off the kind of missteps it made with its Smelt v. US filing.
And if that’s the case, then it appears that the Obama Administration may have begun to recover its sense of hearing. But the only lesson I think we can safely draw from all of this is to keep shouting.
White House Looking Into Census Inclusion
June 18th, 2009
From the Wall Street Journal
The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.
The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn’t released same-sex marriage data.
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.
Mike Rogers: I Want Equal Treatment For Each Of Those Three Hundred Million Americans
June 17th, 2009
Mike Rogers, on the president’s memorandum on limited partnership benefits, the repeal of DOMA, and “cutting off the spigot” to the Democratic Party.
Transcript of Obama’s Signing Ceremony for Federal “Benefits”
June 17th, 2009
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE SIGNING OF A PRESIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM REGARDING FEDERAL BENEFITS AND NON-DISCRIMINATION
Oval Office 6:04 P.M. EDT
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.
(The memorandum is signed.)
END 6:08 P.M. EDT
Is anyone rushing now to buy their Democratic Party fundraiser ticket?
Mainstream Press Noticing LGBT Anger At Obama
June 17th, 2009
It’s very rare to see any the squabbles and controversies that play out on LGBT blogs and news organizations show up beyond our little playground. Huge events and debates can rage in the blogosphere with virtually no notice from the mainstream press. Not this time. Many of the majors are noticing the anger that many LGBT people feel over the Justice Department’s DOMA brief, as well as the cynical attempts by the Obama administration to try to change the subject. More importantly, the mainstream press is noticing that those attempts aren’t working. We already noted editorials from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Here’s CNN:
President Obama’s decision to grant some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is seen by some as his attempt to extend an olive branch to the gay and lesbian community, but critics say it’s “too little, too late.”
“It seems to me at least to be a nice gesture, but a disappointment,” said Richard Kim, a senior editor at The Nation magazine.
…The rancor threatens to disrupt a big Democratic National Committee gay fundraiser in Washington next week. Vice President Biden is the guest at next Thursday’s DNC’s LBGT Leadership Council 10th Annual Dinner in Washington. Critics are calling for Frank and other gay congressional leaders to boycott the dinner, for which tickets go for $1,000 to $30,000 a plate. Activist David Mixner and blogger Andy Towle, two well-known gay rights advocates, announced that they were pulling out, citing disappointment with the DOMA brief.
The Associated Press has gotten into the act as well:
President Barack Obama signaled to gay rights activists Wednesday that he’s listening to their priorities by extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. But he didn’t give them even close to everything they want, bringing growing anger against the president to the surface.
Obama aides urged gays and lesbians to have patience with the new White House’s slow-and-steady approach to the politically charged topic. But his critics — and there were many — saw Wednesday’s incremental move to expand gay rights as little more than pandering to a reliably Democratic voting bloc, with the primary aim not of making policy more fair but of cutting short a fundraising boycott.
“When a president tells you he’s going to be different, you believe him,” said John Aravosis, a Washington-based gay activist. “It’s not that he didn’t follow through on his promises, he stabbed us in the back.”
Here’s USA Today’s blog, The Oval:
Response from gay rights groups to President Obama’s offer of some federal benefits to same-sex partners of government employees: The sound of one hand clapping.
Leaders of the gay community are making it clear that the president’s action, expected at a White House signing ceremony later this afternoon, doesn’t make up for the administration’s refusal to abandon the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of marriages between same sex couples. As we reported earlier this morning, gay rights groups are incensed over a legal brief that the Justice Department filed last week in defense of the law.
Newsweek’s blog, The Gaggle, asks, “Can Obama win back the gay community?”
[L]ast week the Obama Justice Department filed a legal brief in federal court defending DOMA against a lawsuit that claims the act is unconstitutional. In fact, in legal terms, the Obama aides equated same sex marriage to incest, a move that horrified gay rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign. Coupled with Obama’s silence on another campaign promise—his pledge to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military—several high-profile gay activists announced they would boycott a DNC fundraiser scheduled for next week featuring Vice President Joe Biden and several gay and lesbian members of Congress, including Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin. All the bad publicity prompted the White House to schedule Obama’s announcement today, though an administration official insisted to Newsweek that the “memo” had been in the works all along.
The reaction to Obama’s “memo” has been pretty lukewarm so far. HRC, in a statement, described it merely as a “first brick.” But everybody is watching very closely to see what Obama will actually say. Will he repeat his vow to repeal DOMA in spite of last week’s legal brief? That’s one rumor going around today, though White House aides won’t comment. Meanwhile, David Mixner, a prominent gay rights activist who campaigned for Obama, says he’s still boycotting the fundraiser next week—unless he hears Obama say something amazing today. “I feel betrayed,” he told Newsweek in an interview this morning. “People are really angry.” He said it’s not enough for Obama and his aides to hint that they’ll do more for the gay community in the future. “We heard that during the Clinton years,” Mixner said. “Too many pressing issues? That’s code for never.”
Unfortunately, not all of the reporting has been accurate. Most MSM news reports omit the fact that health benefits aren’t part of the President’s latest memorandum. In fact, the Los Angeles Times erroneously hailed the President’s move“to extend healthcare and other benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.” But the Times did note the anger which led to the President’s latest move:
Nothing, however, matches the outrage provoked by last week’s court filing in Santa Ana supporting the Defense of Marriage Act. The fact that the brief was filed during Gay Pride Month, which Obama saluted with a formal proclamation, only compounded the sense of insult.
“You have some appointments that have been good and a proclamation,” said [Ken] Sherrill, who has written extensively on the history of the gay rights movement. “And then two tangible areas where the administration has done something wrongheaded and offensive. Doing nothing at all would have been a helluva lot better.”
Aravosis Not Impressed by “Benefits”
June 17th, 2009
In a Salon article, John Aravosis expressed his dissatisfaction with President Obama’s planned announcement of federal employee benefits.
Tonight, President Fierce will try to make amends by signing either a memorandum, a directive, or an executive order, directing some federal agencies, but not others, to provide some benefits, but not others, to some gay federal employees, but not others, at some undisclosed time in the future. (And the benefits may reportedly go away when Obama leaves office.)
First problem, federal agencies already have the right to provide these benefits to gay employees — and several, including at least one DOD agency, do. Second problem, the administration can’t tell us exactly which benefits they’re talking about and for which employees. That’s because this was all hastily thrown together after the incestuous and pedophilic gays nearly brought down a Democratic National Committee gay pride fundraiser scheduled for next week. A gay blogger got hold of the event’s guest list and published it, and once Washington, D.C.’s gay paper, the Washington Blade, announced that it would be staking out the entrance to the event with camera and video, the $1,000 a head attendees started dropping like flies.
Jennifer Vanusco at the Huffington Post gives details of the rather uninformative statements by John Berry:
Berry also said that a memo would be sent out to all Federal departments asking them to look for additional benefits they could extend, and instructing them that making employment decisions on the basis of anything other than job performance – including sexual orientation and gender identity – is not acceptable.
but she reminds us
this guidance was already extended by Bill Clinton and was followed by George W. Bush. And the “benefits” are already provided by many supervisors at their discretion.
About Those “New” Federal Benefits for Gay Employees…
June 17th, 2009
…They’re not so new. I already noted that the announced benefits pertaining to the foreign service had already been announced last month. John Aravosis confirmed that the rest aren’t new either:
I just asked OPM Director John Berry, on a White House media conference call, whether in fact federal agencies already have the right to give these benefits to gay employees. The answer, “yes.” So what’s new about tonight? Obama is going to “tell” the agencies to give the benefits — as if any agency in the Obama administration would dare tell a gay employee no to a request for time off to attend their partner’s funeral?
Need any more confirmation that all Obama wanted to do was salvage the DNC fundraiser?
LA Times: Obama’s “Curiously Passive” Approach To LGBT Issues
June 17th, 2009
The Los Angeles Times weighs in on Obama’s inaction on LGBT issues:
…Obama pledged to work toward the repeal of the federal marriage act, which denies gay couples such basics as filing a joint tax return. He has made encouraging noises about signing the so-called Matthew Shepard Act, which extends hate-crime laws to cover acts against gays. And he’s expected to announce today the extension of benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. But although he appears willing to sign gay rights bills, he takes a curiously passive approach to ensuring that such legislation actually gets to his desk.
…The gap between Obama and gay rights activists appears to be growing. True, the current federal lawsuits against the marriage act and Proposition 8 fail to recognize that a hasty march can be damaging to gay rights. The current composition of the U.S. Supreme Court makes it highly unlikely that such lawsuits will succeed, and adverse decisions could set the same-sex marriage movement back by years. From an ideological viewpoint, gays and lesbians are entitled to their rights now. But well-planned timing gives them the best chance of securing those rights soon. Obama, though, has shown a dishearteningly pragmatic willingness to allow the issue of gay rights to languish. The many Americans who support these rights expect better of him.
NY Times: Obama’s Non-Health “Benefits” Timed To Stave Off Fundraising Disaster
June 17th, 2009
Late yesterday, we learned that President Barack Obama was going to sign a presidential memorandum (rather than a more permanent presidential order) granting partner benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees. Then we learned that because of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” — which the Obama administration chose to defend in court with an insulting DOJ brief — bars the extension of health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners. Which means that the presidential memorandum will only address things like relocation expenses.
New York Times is reporting that the only reason the Obama administration is doing this is to help salvage next week’s fundraiser:
But administration officials said the timing of the announcement was intended to help contain the growing furor among gay rights groups. Several gay donors withdrew their sponsorship of a Democratic National Committee fund-raising event next week, where Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is scheduled to speak.
This does not appear to be mollifying anyone as far as I have been able to learn. The rebellion continues, with at least five prominent LGBT advocates saying that they are pulling out of the fundraiser.
Obama To Extend Minimal “Partner Benefits” To Federal Employees
June 16th, 2009
The Advocate has a very brief mention that President Barack Obama will sign a presidential memorandum tomorrow at 5:45 pm EDT to provide benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. He is scheduled to make a few brief remarks following the signing.
Update: When I first posted this, the Advocate story only had two paragraphs, the first and the last one. This part wasn’t part of the article yet:
The White House press office declined to detail which benefits would be included, but people familiar with the legal obstacles posed by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, said health benefits are not likely to be a part of the package. The Lieberman-Baldwin Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, a bi-cameral bill that was introduced last month, will still need to be passed by Congress in order for full benefits to be extended to domestic partners of federal workers.
“Our analysis has been that it will take an act of Congress for the full suite of benefits such as health benefits and retirement benefits to be provided for same-sex couples and families,” said Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal Globe: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government. Hirsch said the executive branch has the authority to extend certain other benefits through departments and agencies, such as providing relocation costs for partners of federal employees.
Really? Relocation expenses? You’ve got to be kidding me. Health and retirement benefits are the most important part of any benefits plan. This one is practically useless — and a cruel joke at that, given the events of the past few days. If this is supposed to be a sop that the Obama administration is throwing to LGBT employees, it’s a pretty limp one.
I’ve now updated the title of this post to put “Partner Benefits” in scare quotes where they belong.
Update: There’s more. President Obama will be signing a memorandum, not an executive order. Which means that it will only be in effect while Obama is in office. LGBT advocates are, shall we say, underwhelmed:
The executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a large state-based gay rights group, Alan Van Capelle, greeted today’s announcement sarcastically.
“Welcome to 1999,” he told POLITICO. “How revolutionary of the White House to give benefits to same-sex couples, when two-thirds of conservative Wall Street are already doing it. What an achievement.”
“It’s just one of the things that should have been done in January,” Van Capelle, who was among those taking his name off the Biden event, said, calling for a “comprehensive strategy.” “If the President makes the announcement tomorrow, it will still fall short of what LGBT people are expecting from this administration.”
In Today’s Army, Neo-Nazis Are In But LGBT People Are Out
June 16th, 2009
This is what is so particularly galling about the foot-dragging and finger-pointing going on between President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” While more than two hundred American servicemembers have been discharged from the armed forces in a time of war since the start of the Obama administration simply for being honest about who they are, neo-Nazis — complete with neo-Nazi tattoos and criminal records — are sailing right on through. This is Forrest Fogarty. He decided to become a Nazi at the age of fourteen:
For the next six years, Fogarty flitted from landscaping job to construction job, neither of which he’d ever wanted to do. “I was just drinking and fighting,” he says. He started his own Nazi rock group, Attack, and made friends in the National Alliance, at the time the biggest neo-Nazi group in the country. It has called for a “a long-term eugenics program involving at least the entire populations of Europe and America.”
But the military ran in Fogarty’s family. His grandfather had served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and his dad had been a Marine in Vietnam. At 22, Fogarty resolved to follow in their footsteps. “I wanted to serve my country,” he says.
Army regulations prohibit soldiers from participating in racist groups, and recruiters are instructed to keep an eye out for suspicious tattoos (PDF: 188 KB/25 pages). Before signing on the dotted line, enlistees are required to explain any tattoos. At a Tampa recruitment office, though, Fogarty sailed right through the signup process. “They just told me to write an explanation of each tattoo, and I made up some stuff, and that was that,” he says. Soon he was posted to Fort Stewart in Georgia, where he became part of the 3rd Infantry Division. [Hyperlink in the original]
Fogarty’s ex-girlfriend even tried to disrupt his military career by sending photos of him at Nazi rallies and performing in his band. The military brought him before a commission and he was asked to explain himself. But despite the photographic evidence, he denied the charges and the commission refused to take any further action. He went on to serve as a military policeman in Iraq, where he learned to add yet another group to his long list of people to hate: Arabs. “Them and the Jews are just disgusting people as far as I’m concerned,” he told Salon’s Matt Kennard.
Conservative talk radio and Fox News howled with protest when a Homeland Security assessment on right-wing extremism warned about a very tiny minority of military veterans joining extremist groups after leaving the military (PDF: 2MB/10 pages). Pundits demanded — and got — an apology from Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano. But all of that attention ignored the fact that in 2005, the Defense Department concluded that the military had become a training ground for these very same extremists (PDF: 672KN136 pages):
Effectively, the military has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy pertaining to extremism. If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt through words or actions that violate policy, reflect poorly on the Armed Forces, or disrupt the effectiveness and order of their units, they are likely to be able to complete their contracts.
Except there isn’t a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy with respect to extremism — at least not in a way that LGBT servicemembers would recognize it. The “Don’t Ask” part of the anti-gay policy is routinely violated by military investigators. Many LGBT servicemembers were identified via their use of LGBT web sites, yet the mlitary doesn’t do any sort of organized internet screening for supremacists among Nazi or Klan websites and forums. They also don’t follow-up when presented with evidence that a servicemember is a member of a Nazi or Klan-style organization.
Furthermore, right-wing extremists routinely flaunt the “Don’t Tell” part of the policy with no repercussions. Fogarty revealed that other members of his outfit knew about his Nazi affiliations, but it just became something of a joke among fellow soldiers and commanding officers. A police officer in Fayetteville, North Carolina who used to be a paratrouper at nearby Fort Bragg said this:
[Hunter] Glass says white supremacists now enjoy an open culture of impunity in the armed forces. “We’re seeing guys with tattoos all the time,” he says. “As far as hunting them down, I don’t see it. I’m seeing the opposite, where if a white supremacist has committed a crime, the military stance will be, ‘He didn’t commit a race-related crime.’”
Fogarty left the military in 2005 with an honorable discharge.
A 2008 FBI report on White supremacists in the Military (PDF: 118 KB/14 pages) found:
Military experience—ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces—is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement. FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color. FBI cases also document instances of active duty military personnel having volunteered their professional resources to white supremacist causes.
…A review of FBI white supremacist extremist cases from October 2001 to May 2008 identified 203 individuals with confirmed or claimed military service active in the extremist movement at some time during the reporting period. This number is minuscule in comparison with the projected US veteran population of 23,816,000 as of 2 May 2008, or the 1,416,037 active duty military personnel as of 30 April 2008. It is also a small percentage of an estimated US white supremacist extremist population, which, based on FBI investigations, currently numbers in the low thousands. However, the prestige which the extremist movement bestows upon members with military experience grants them the potential for influence beyond their numbers. Most extremist groups have some members with military experience, and those with military experience often hold positions of authority within the groups to which they belong.
Fifty-eight of the 2003 individuals identified by the FBI were members of the National Alliance, the group where Fogerty got his start before joining the military. Another 44 of the 203 individuals were members of the National Socialist Movement, the same group which protested at PrideFest in Springfield, Missouri over the weekend. The FBI report describes the National Socialist Movement as being relatively stable and cohesive. They have also been very successful with their strategic decision to target returning Iraq war veterans for recruitment:
In contrast to the NA [National Alliance] and other white supremacist groups, the NSM—although not immune to factionalism—enjoyed a greater degree of stability during the post-9/11 period and benefited from the membership exoduses of other struggling organizations. This relative stability included a sustained campaign to recruit current and former military personnel overseen by a respected figure in the extremist movement and unverified former Marine, who left leadership roles in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Aryan Nations (AN) to become a Colonel in the NSM and Director of its “Stormtroopers” (the NSM’s security force) from 2002 until his retirement in December 2007. The NSM’s military structure also adds to its recruitment success by offering a familiar organizational context for veterans, including a system of rank that serves as an incentive for joining the group. In addition, NSM literature has outlined the development of a Special Projects Division consisting of “Werewolf Units” intended for special military operations and with a membership favoring those with military backgrounds.
According to sensitive and reliable source reporting in October 2006, the NSM received a number of queries from active duty Army and Marine personnel stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan expressing interest in joining the organization or inquiring about chapters located near domestic US military bases. This report followed—and was consistent with—December 2005 source reporting on the NSM stressing the need to place units close to military bases nationwide in order to recruit military personnel. Whether as a result of group recruitment efforts or self-recruitment by active military personnel sympathetic to white supremacist extremist causes, FBI information derived from reliable, multiple sources documents white supremacist extremist activity occurring at some military bases.
Read the whole article by Salon’s Matt Kennard. It’s an amazing eye-opener. It describes supremacist leaders encouraging members to enlist in the military so that they can be trained at taxpayer expense for what they see as a coming “race war,” which is central to their beleifs.
If Not Now…?
June 15th, 2009
As I said earlier, the age old question — If not now, when? — is no longer a rallying cry but a taunt to the Obama administration on it’s poor handling of LGBT issues. The New York Times joins the taunting with an editorial about the Obama administration’s bungling over its insulting DOMA brief:
The best approach of all would have been to make clear, even as it defends the law in court, that it is fighting for gay rights. It should work to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that bans gay men and lesbians in the military from being open about their sexuality. It should push hard for a federal law banning employment discrimination. It should also work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act in Congress.
The administration has had its hands full with the financial crisis, health care, Guantánamo Bay and other pressing matters. In times like these, issues like repealing the marriage act can seem like a distraction — or a political liability. But busy calendars and political expediency are no excuse for making one group of Americans wait any longer for equal rights.
Rachel Maddow and Howard Dean: Obama’s DOMA Defense Is “A Huge Mistake”
June 15th, 2009
June 13th, 2009
The Obama administration’s brief defending DOMA in Smelt v. United States is incredibly tone deaf, particularly when contrasted against the California Attorney General’s brief filed in response to Perry v. Schwarzenegger. The DOJ brief which says gays can marry anyone they want as long as it’s someone of the opposite sex is not just an insult to gay people, but an insult to the legal system’s collective intelligence. And the argument about holding costs down on Social Security and preserving tax revenue would be laughable if this were a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. Unfortunately, these are the underpinnings of the legal arguments brought before the august Supreme Court on behalf of one of the smartest Presidents to hold the high office. How could this have happened? David Link offers one answer:
There is something deeper here, though. Obama is comfortable with the cliché political rhetoric of gay equality, but this brief shows his understanding doesn’t go a centimeter deeper. Or (most generously) that his Attorney General knows only the words and not the tune. To someone who understands gay equality as little more than a set of slogans and bromides, this brief might not have looked particularly offensive.
That, at least, is the most generous understanding I am willing to indulge – that the brief was written and/or edited by civil servants with an anti-gay inclination, and reviewed by political staff who know no more about gay equality than what they read on the President’s website.
Obama Administration Moves To Uphold DOMA Before Supreme Court
June 12th, 2009
John Aravosis has finally gotten a copy of the Justice Department’s brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the legal challenge to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” The case was brought by Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, who were married in California last year.
Avarosis goes out on a few limbs in his post, claiming that the Obama administration compares same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia, and others are blindly running with it. The problem with that is that the brief does no such thing. It does mention that different states do regulate the qualifications for marriages differently with regard to kinship or age of consent, emphasizing that some states allow some marriages while others don’t. But trying to figure out if second and first cousins or sixteen-year-olds should marry isn’t the same as pedophilia or incest as Aravosis claims. If you really want a good example of how such a comparison has been made, go back and remember Rick Warren’s comparison and his reiteration that he does see it as equivalent. The Justice Department brief is not even close to being in the same league.
Nevertheless, there is plenty to be upset about without descending into histrionics and melodrama. For example, the administration’s brief reveals one cynical reasoning behind DOMA: that Congress has a right to determine how it preserves “the scarce resources of both the federal and State governments” (i.e. they save money by denying marriage equality to same-sex couples).
It also gives a tortured reasoning as to why DOMA does not violate the Equal Protection clause of the constitution. In case the court is inclined to see gay people as a suspect class, the brief points out that DOMA doesn’t mention gay people, but simply defines the gender of those who must be recognized as married by the federal and state governments — a legal re-casting of the utterly facetious “gays can marry people of the opposite sex” argument.
And the mere fact that the Obama administration sees fit to try to justify the constitutionality of DOMA is very troubling. When Obama ran for the Democratic nomination for President, he distinguished himself from other front-runners by declaring that he was for DOMA’s full repeal. That contrasted with Sen. Hillary Clinton’s position of advocating for only partial repeal of DOMA and leaving intact the provisions allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. When Obama became president, the new White House web site repeated his call for repealing DOMA. But that commitment has since been quietly dropped when the web site was revamped in April.
This case, Smelt v United States, is separate from the highly publicized case of Perry v Schwarzenegger, which was brought by the two prominent lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies and funded by the American Foundation for Equal Rights. In Smelt v U.S., the plaintiffs are a married couple seeking federal recognition of their California marriage, as well as the recognition of their marriage in other states. Perry v Schwarzenegger was brought by two unmarried same-sex couples and challenges California’s ban on same-sex couples’ access to marriage. There is also another separate DOMA challenge filed by GLAD on behalf of the widower of the late openly gay Congressman Garry Studds.
Update: Want another reason to be upset about this move by the Obama administration? How about this statement from Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller:
As it generally does with existing statutes, the Justice Department is defending the law on the books in court. The president has said he wants to see a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. However, until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system.
Miller is hiding behind the fact that the administration is charged under the constitution with the duty to enforce the law. But that is not the same as saying the administration is obligated by that same constitution to defend the law in court. The constitution does no such thing. In fact, virtually every administration has gone to the courts on behalf of plaintiffs or on their own behalf seeking to strike down laws they don’t like. This is a weak statement from a meek administration.