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Gay Rights and the U.S. Federal Government - Mo's Journal
May 28th, 2009
09:34 am

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Gay Rights and the U.S. Federal Government
There have been a few developments lately: encouraging, discouraging, and uncertain. I'll start with the encouraging part, although I have some nagging doubts about it.

Encouraging: As reported by the N.Y. Times, the State Department will, for the first time, offer the same benefits to same-sex partners of diplomats that it offers to opposite sex ones. These benefits range from the standard ones offered to spouses in other kinds of jobs (medical coverage) to standard ones offered to spouses of employees in overseas corporations (language training) to lifesaving (emergency evacuation from a war zone). Previous attempts to get these benefits have been denied by the State Department under the justification that to provide them would violate the ironically named Defense of Marriage Act. Hillary Clinton, who during her campaign was deemed less willing to revoke DOMA than Barack Obama, issued an internal memorandum saying that the benefits will be offered. In a meeting with State Department Staff in February, the Times reports her as saying, "I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide." My nagging doubt? No timetable has been issued for implementing the benefits and no public announcement has been made and DOMA still stands. If it actually comes down to it, will the State Department evacuate the lesbian and gay spouses along with the heterosexual ones, or just leave them to die? If they don't leave them to die, how long before a huge outcry from the right wing that leads to rescinding the policy, since it violates the law - the law that Candidate Obama said he'd push to repeal, but President Obama ignores.

Discouraging: In spite of claiming he is a "fierce advocate" for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, President Obama has done nothing to show that and has squandered opportunities to make changes. Candidate Obama said he would repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and that he would push for repeal of DOMA. President Obama has done nothing on either issue and, in fact, has removed them from the "issues" section of the White House web site. Gay Arabic translators are still being dismissed, leaving the military ill-prepared. As Jon Stewart says, what's the rationale in using any methods - even torture - to get a guy to confess but you have nobody who can tell you what to say since you fired all the people who can speak his language? Same sex couples are still denied all the benefits opposite sex couples take for granted. And equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans is nowhere on the official White House "issues" list - not under civil rights, not under family, not under defense. Do a search on "gay" or "lesbian" and you come up empty, although the website helpfully offers to email you if something does get added.

ETA: There is a mention in the civil rights section that I missed, as mamajoan points out. It doesn't come up on a search for "gay" or "lesbian" since it doesn't use either of those words, and there isn't a heading to make it stand out, as there used to be, so I didn't see it when skimming that section. It's a watered-down version of the previous commitment to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, and with all references to repealing DOMA removed, but it's not nothing.


Mixed: A coalition of the lead lawyers on opposite sides in Gore v. Bush is challenging California's Proposition 8 in Federal Court based on federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. If they were to win, it might invalidate DOMA as well. All the established gay rights legal organizations say this is the wrong timing, and if we lose at the federal level it will have terrible consequences. Which is certainly true, and was very true of Hardwick as well, which happened at the time the established organizations thought was right. I don't know if this is the right time or not, but we've got Lawrence on the books now and we've got an executive and legislative branch unwilling to do anything for our cause. Also, we have next to no chance of the Supreme Court getting more liberal in the next 5-10 years - all we can hope for is that it won't move farther to the right. So this may be the best chance we have in a long time, while Stevens and Ginsburg are still there. I just don't know.

Thoughts, anyone? The icon is, of course, ironic.

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[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:May 28th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
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I'm afraid that--especially when it's so unlikely that gay people will insist on voting for *conservative* candidates--that Obama has a lot of incentives to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, so he can point to his ringing oratory and *also* appease conservatives by not actually doing anything.
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From:mofic
Date:May 28th, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
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I think you're right. It seems like Obama's fierce advocacy was only in evidence when he:

- wanted us to vote for him rather than Hillary Clinton in the primaries
- wanted our money

It's sad.
From:okelle
Date:May 28th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)
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I'm not feeling coherent enough to make an intelligent comment, but wanted to thank you for your analysis.
[User Picture]
From:mamajoan
Date:May 28th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
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Hmm, I'm still seeing it on the Civil Rights page.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/civil_rights/
"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 repealing 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."
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:May 28th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. It didn't come up on my search - I've edited to add this. The other day the head of the lesbian and gay community center in LA sent an open letter protesting the removal of the commitment to repeal DOMA and the watering down of the commitment to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and it looks like that's still where it stands - not good but not nothing.
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From:tobias_cur
Date:May 28th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
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First of all, thank you for your analysis. It is far more coherent than what I’m able to come up with before I begin frothing at the mouth and am forced to take a little blue happy pill.

I think Obama made it perfectly clear during the election that he had no intention of helping us queer folks out when he said his religion says gay marriage is wrong, but he was a strong advocate for equal rights, and blah, blah, blah, domestic partnerships/civil unions, blah, blah, blah…(I tend to zone out when a politician becomes gutless and starts spewing P.C. crap to get votes.) The unfortunate truth is that no one in Washington has the guts to be an actual advocate for change in national policy when it comes to DOMA and DADT. They’re quite happy to pay lip service to us, but have yet to come through when it comes to doing something about it. But then, I’ve grown more cynical over the past eight years…and 100 days or so.

So, bully for foreign diplomats! With their home countries legalizing gay marriage or country was kind of forced into actually recognizing those marriages. It’s not very “diplomatic” to say, “yeah, we know your married in YOUR country but in America, your just really close friends. Got it!” It’s a tiny step forward for people who already had wealth and influence on their side, I’ll be impressed when average people get the same rights, as the other average people.

I’m just tired of being thrown the scraps when there is a whole meal on the table.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:May 28th, 2009 04:52 pm (UTC)
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It's not the foreign diplomats marriages that are now being recognized. I have no idea how that works, actually. It's American diplomats being sent overseas that has changed. Or will change once it's implemented.
[User Picture]
From:tobias_cur
Date:May 28th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
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Ooooooooooh... *head desk* That's what I get for skimming the headlines.

The rest I think still stands, foreign or domestic if someone is being appointed a diplomatic post they have some influence and probably wealth to boot. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule; but not many.
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