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Tom Head

The Least He Can Do

By June 17, 2009

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Barack Obama has only been in office for five months. It's too early to call him a disappointment.

But on civil rights, he just hasn't done enough. Everything he has done has been marked by an asterisk--a half-measure, a compromise:And on lesbian and gay rights, he has utterly and completely dropped the ball--failing to use his bully pulpit to advocate for new LGBT rights legislation, inviting one of Proposition 8's most vocal supporters to deliver his inaugural prayer, and, most recently, allowing his administration to issue a ridiculous anti-gay brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While much attention has been brought to the fact that the brief peripherally associates same-sex marriage with marriages involving first cousins and 16-year-olds, I think the most damning excerpt can be found on page 27:
"DOMA does not prevent gay and lesbian couples from marrying. It does not prohibit the States from acknowledging gay marriages. And it does not in any way penalize those couples, or States, that do so. Instead, plaintiffs' claims rest on the asserted right to receive federal benefits on the basis of a relationship other than the sole relationship on which Congress (and many States) have decided to base eligibility for such benefits. Thus, properly characterized, the right asserted here is far from fundamental, as there is no constitutional right to State or federal financial benefits."
In a legal sense, State and federal financial benefits are essential to the definition of marriage. That's the whole point. State marriages do not confer sacraments; they confer concrete legal benefits, such the ability to file federal taxes jointly. Loving v. Virginia (1967) has already established that full legal marriage is a fundamental right. There was no concurrence in the ruling stating that if Virginia wished to deny interracial couples certain "financial benefits" available to same-race couples, it would be constitutional to do so--because such a position would have been recognized as ludicrous, legal marriage being defined in part by financial benefits.

It would be unrealistic to expect the Obama administration to pass the entire LGBT civil rights agenda within the first six months of his presidency, just as it would be unrealistic to expect the LGBT rights movement to sit on its hands and not argue that he do exactly that. But the least we should be able to expect from the Obama administration is for his officials to demonstrate the same slyly halfhearted approach in defending DOMA that his administration has demonstrated with respect to banning torture and closing Guantanamo Bay. File the bare minimum. Don't let your attorneys make a comprehensive argument against same-sex marriage--or rather, now that the brief has already been written and filed, do everything you can to make it clear that (a) it does not represent the views of your administration and (b) the mistake will not be repeated.

President Obama has damaged his standing among the LGBT rights community. Whether he has done so irreversibly (as President Clinton did) or temporarily will depend on what he does over the coming years. Either way, this is a really, really bad time to hit LGBT donors up for more funds.

Related: Four Reasons to Support Same-Sex Marriage


June 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm
(1) RickyDee says:

Marriage and DADT, DOMA are small potatoes. Setting each right could take forever. LGBTs must come out, speak with their money and demand FULL EQUALITY. Anything else is UN-equal!

June 17, 2009 at 10:03 pm
(2) D says:

I just posted about the DOMA brief in the forum. Credo Mobile has a webform set up so that people can contact Obama about this issue.

I agree that the legal analysis is ridiculous. Legal marriage confers a whole host of legal and financial benefits. What about intestate succession? What about community property? And being able to add your spouse to your health insurance?

July 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm
(3) Rain says:

I think that in as little as 20 years from now, people will be shunning how discriminatory America is at this point in time to the rights of our gay and lesbian citizens.

The govt’s current refusal of their rights will be looked at as a shameful period in America, just as we look now upon the period before the movements for women and African Americans.

Can’t wait until we get over the whole thing and treat everyone like humans, jeez!

August 6, 2012 at 8:08 am
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August 8, 2012 at 9:56 am
(5) Appeanymn says:
August 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm
(6) Appeanymn says:

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