There are days when I am infatuated with Obama’s very existence. These moments usually coincide with vivid reminders of our previous president. For example, GQ magazine revealed recently that Donald Rumsfeld’s presidential defense briefings began with warrior Bible verses. Here is a sample:
“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Other times, the mere fact that Obama isn’t Bush is not enough. At some point, he has to stand on his own record. The big question for gay and lesbian leaders is, “when can we expect ‘some point’ to happen and what is a reasonable timeline?”
In The Washington Post, Bill Clinton’s former liaison to the gay community, Richard Socarides, very effectively raised this issue.
“In December, while trying to quiet the furor over his invitation of Rick Warren to take part in his inauguration, Barack Obama reminded us that he had been a ‘consistent’ and ‘fierce advocate’ of equality for gay and lesbian Americans,” wrote Socarides. “But at the end of its first 100 days, his administration has been neither.” The frustration of some leading advocates is quickly spreading and beginning to boil over.
“I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach, and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues,” Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog. “They want them (gay issues) to go away. They want us to go away.” Pam Spaulding, the editor of the Durham, N.C.-based blog Pam’s House Blend, shares Sullivan’s sentiments. On a recent post, she reacted strongly to the Obama administration’s inaction on overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prohibits gay service members from serving openly.
“The White House is backed up against the wall and cannot give a reasonable, logical defense to continue a policy that is hurting our military effectiveness,” wrote Spaulding. “He can stop the discharges right now, while Congress moves in its not-so-deliberate speed on the matter. This is embarrassing for the ‘fierce advocate,’ but quite frankly it’s irresponsible as commander in chief to act as if he can’t do anything right now.”
The military issue has received heightened awareness since Lt. Dan Choi was discharged after coming out on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Choi, who is fluent in Arabic, wrote a letter to Obama urging the president not to discharge him.
“My subordinates know I’m gay. They don’t care,” Choi wrote. “They are professional. As an infantry officer, I am not accustomed to begging. But I beg you today: Do not fire me.”
Choi was canned.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), openly questioned Obama on LGBT issues. “Why is he becoming so conservative now that he’s got the job?” Conyers asked The Michigan Messenger. “I think he is getting a lot of pressure put on him from the right, from conservatives. And he is trying to prove to the Republicans that he is bipartisan.”
Obama’s opposition to allowing gay couples to marry has also raised the ire of some, who point out that anti-gay ideologues are parroting his position as cover for their extremism.
“The goodwill, along with Elvis, long ago left the building,” wrote John Aravosis, editor of Americablog. “What could have been a disagreement with a friend is quickly heading towards a major, damaging showdown…Obama is quickly approaching the ass-biting phase of the gay rights debate.”
Personally, I’m not ready to pass judgment on Barack Obama quite yet. He really does have his plate full with enormously complicated and weighty issues. The president also remembers how addressing “gays in the military” hurt Clinton early in his term — and this is likely influencing his decision on timing.
It would be incredible to have Obama repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, so the federal government would recognize marriages performed in states. But, I suspect that won’t happen until after he signed less controversial measures, like a ban on firing people because of their sexual orientation, or hate crime legislation.
I will not begin to worry about being left out in the cold until the cold weather returns. If the leaves change before key policies do, there could be trouble. This is because the Obama administration and Congress are less likely to rock the boat next year, with midterm elections approaching.
Ever since the modern gay rights movement began in 1969 with the Stonewall riots, we’ve been waiting for a president who won’t stonewall us on equality. Hopefully, Obama will live up to his potential and prove to be a great leader. But, it is clear that the patience of an increasing number of gay rights leaders is wearing thin and they refuse to be patsies.