Two of the most prominent special interest groups supporting the Obama campaign were organized labor and the gay community. Labor poured in over $400 million last year to all of the Democratic campaigns. The UAW definitely benefitted from the GM bailout and they now own 55% of Chrysler. The $787 billion stimulus was a good return on the SEIU’s $100 million investment, and free trade legislation is not going anywhere. These initial victories must have been encouraging, but now labor’s legislative agenda is dead. Union card check is not going to pass.
My guess is that many gay activists are also having second thoughts about the President. How do you think they feel now that former Vice President Dick Cheney is more supportive of their agenda than Obama?
Public opinion is now decisively inclusive of homosexuals, and anti-gay prejudice has been declining for a long time. On the other hand our nation is still not ready to accept gay marriage. This was demonstrated in Maine this week. Maine is about as far away as you can get from the Bible Belt, and the state gave Obama 58% of the vote in 2008. Nevertheless, its five month gay marriage law was repealed on Tuesday.
Nearby Massachusetts with its influential media market has for years promoted gay marriage. The pro-gay forces had a huge fundraising advantage over their opponents in Maine, but they still lost. Opponents said Maine’s domestic-partnership law provides same-sex couples with enough equality. The opponents did not object to gay couples having 100% of the legal rights and privileges of straight couples, but they said it was not necessary to change the definition of marriage that has existed for the last 2,500 years.
Many of them supported civil unions as an alternative. The big difference between civil unions and gay marriage is that the latter have religious connotations, the former only legal ones. Most Americans support legal sanction for gay couples but not a religious sanction. President Obama appears to hold the same nuanced position.
Gay marriage has not survived an electoral test in any jurisdiction. Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut all voted in an identical manner to Maine. In the weeks leading up to the vote the White House was asked for a comment on the Maine ballot question, and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the President had “no position.”
In a 2004 interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune, during his Senate campaign, Obama said, “I’m a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.” President Obama has appointed gay people to several prominent posts in his administration, but despite pleasant words, he has largely abandoned the promises he made to them.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 and protects states from being forced to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. It was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate, 85-14, with Sen. Joe Biden (DE) joining 28 other Democrats in voting yes. Bill Clinton used this issue prominently in his 1996 re-election. He boasted about his opposition to gay rights in paid commercials run on Christian radio stations.
Last year candidate Barack Obama promised to repeal DOMA, and he has repeated that pledge in the White House. In June his Justice Department defended DOMA before the Supreme Court. They submitted a brief comparing same-sex relationships to incest and pedophilia. The gay community understandably erupted and the President was forced to file another brief. The current position is for the Justice Department to defend DOMA while the Obama administration is saying the law is unfair and discriminatory.
Despite the rhetoric, DOMA is not going to be repealed. The DOMA repeal effort is being led by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a gay freshman, and lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). The prime sponsor is Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and they have nearly 100 co-sponsors. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), another openly gay lawmaker, is not participating in the effort because he says it is useless. He is not even listed among the co-sponsors. Over 280 lawmakers support DOMA.
The President has also said he is in favor of “changing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) legislation in a sensible manner.” This is the legislation used to remove gay people from the military. It was considered a compromise in 1993 and its prime sponsor was Barney Frank. The President has promised DADT will be repealed in early 2010, but that is not going to happen.
This week the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Dick Durbin (IL) said DADT will probably not be taken up next year. Durbin wants to avoid controversial issues during an election year. Obama’s Secretary of the Army has suggested segregating gay soldiers, separate but equal style, as an alternative to fully repealing DADT.
President Obama could get rid of DADT with a stroke of his pen. It can be done by executive order. He has the power to stop gay military discharges today, but more than 600 people have been forced out of the armed services under the DADT policy during the Obama administration.
During the 2008 campaign Obama said “I’ll be a fierce advocate” for gay rights. On October 10, 2009, he addressed the nation’s most prestigious gay event, the annual gala of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC has achieved nothing substantive for gay equality on a federal level in the last twenty years.
Columnist Andrew Sullivan describes HRC as a “Rotary Club for affluent gays, and their prime job is to explain to the gay community why it is never in the Democratic party’s interest to do anything for gay people that might actually resemble equality. They do get a lovely Obama speech. Like that costs him anything or proves anything.”
President Obama said “I’m here with a simple message: I’m here with you in that fight. . . . My expectation is that when you look back on these years, you will see a time in which we put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians — whether in the office or on the battlefield. . . We are moving ahead on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. I will end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That’s my commitment to you. . . . I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.”
The President did not mention the Maine vote in his remarks, and his promises regarding DADT and DOMA are empty. My guess is that gay activists are no longer hoping for real change.