Monday, May 11, 2009

On Obama and Gay Rights

I do not like what I am seeing develop in the Obama administration, and I am sad to know that there are some supporters of Hillary Clinton and John McCain who will be on the ready with the "I told you so" line.

BHO is waffling on gay rights issues, and I do not understand why. I am confident that he, more than any other POTUS before him, has had real normal contact with gay folks. Even the dreaded Rev. Wright seemed to be more favorable to the GLBT community that BHO is seeming to be currently.

It's the most like Bill Clinton that I have seen him be. I haven't given up on him yet, and we are still in the first year of BHO's administration. But it does seem that while we are in the midst of two wars, the dismissal of active duty military personnel over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is counterintuitive to a mission of success. And I need someone to tell me (I am thinking of my friends who are active duty) why an openly (and since we are talking the military, I doubt those folks would be that open) gay person in the military is worse than an actual criminal. I find it offensive that people with actual criminal records are given breaks, incentives if you will, to sign up, while law abiding gay personnel are "threats to unit cohesion."

I also want to know why the likes of someone like Meghan McCain can get it rather right on gay issues, while people within the current administration seem only to hedge and punt. And this is even in the face of public opinion polls that show that the majority of Americans support the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," as well as the growing support for either same sex marriage or civil unions for gay couples.

History is on the side of the GLBT community, and people from my generation (Generation X) and those younger generations understand that (well, most of us). My guess is that there are folks within the BHO administration offering cowardly advice, and that is a real shame. The gay rights movement is indeed the latest iteration of the broader civil rights movement within American history. Civil rights does not belong to just the black community. It never has, and it never will. I hope that BHO will not fall into the trap of ignoring this particular civil rights movement. It would be his loss.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Free I have the same concerns, and I had hoped that the administration would have moved by now to end "Don't Ask" as Obama has promised. Not to be defending the delay of justice, but there are a few things to keep in mind that many gay folk I speak to don't seem to be aware of.

President Clinton gets most of the blame for the DADT policy, but his initial intention was fulfill a campaign promise to END discrimination against gay and lesbian service members. As almost the first act of his Presidency Clinton tried to end the automatic less-than-honorable discharge of gay soldiers.

Clinton can be blamed for lacking the political courage to simply order the policy change as Commander in Chief the way Truman ordered the racial integration of the military in 1948, but he hoped to get broad approval of the change and took it to Congress. He ran into a firestorm or resistance--much of it from within the Democratic party--that truly surprised him. Don't Ask-Don't Tell was the final political compromise result.

This left things worse than they were at the start. Discrimination against gay service members not only continued under "Don't Ask," it has increased, and now that the policy has an official Congressional mandate it is not possible for Obama to simply order the change in military policy as he (or Clinton for that matter) might have otherwise. It will require a new act of Congress.

There was one other result of the Clinton reform attempt that I believe the Obama Administration has very much in mind. For the first 3 or 4 months of his Presidency, Bill Clinton was tangled up in a highly charged political debate about gays in the military. Many people, including Clinton himself, believe that the time and political capital spent on that effort damaged his Presidency in terms of other initiatives (such as healthcare) that he had hoped to tackle right out of the gate.

I think you are correct that the policy change, even with the necessity of Congressional action, would be much easier now than it was in 1993. But I also believe that right now President Obama is like a fireman trying desperately to put out a huge inferno with the economy and two wars, and as much as his heart may be in the right place, he is simply unwilling to take on another possibly politically damaging fire right now.

Ok...all that sounds like making excuses for continuing a policy of injustice, and I suppose it is. But even though it is no consolation to the gay and lesbian service members who are being discharged daily, I do believe that President Obama will eventually make the change he promised and end Don't Ask-Don't Tell. If I'm wrong about that, my vote in Nov. 2008 will probably be the last time I bother.