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:
- Yes, he banned torture by U.S. personnel. But he left torture by extraordinary rendition intact, and has so far refused to seriously investigate Bush-era torture, even blocking the release of Gitmo-esque photographs documenting additional torture.
- Yes, he promised to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay as one of his first acts in office. But so far that promise has not been actualized, and he has resurrected military commissions to deal with Gitmo prisoners.
"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