Obama on gay rights, so far

There has been something of a backlash from the gay community recently to the Obama administration. Like many other groups of Americans who supported Obama for their own reasons, they have been disappointed at his inability to do everything they wanted in the first six months of his presidency.

First came complaints that Obama was doing nothing about Don't Ask, Don't Tell while good soldiers had their careers destroyed. There's no denying that further delay of changing DADT will result in more injustice, but we are five months into a four-year term and there has been a global financial meltdown to take care of. I'm not saying I wouldn't be happier if he hadn't taken care of it already, but nor was I expecting him to.

Then, much more seriously, came a brief from the Justice Department that defended the loathsome Defence of Marriage Act. This is a much more serious transgression, as although the Justice Department is technically obligated to defend all existing law, in reality that defence can be flexibly defined, and this was no weak-willed defence -- it made tired allusions of gay marriage opening the door to polygamy and other nonsense*. Many gay people felt betrayed, and I was personally shocked to hear that kind of language coming out of the Obama administration, however indirectly.

Yesterday, at a much-reported speech commemorating the Stonewall riots, Obama gave an unambiguously strong defence of gay rights, getting some quotable lines in early, like "There are unjust laws to overturn and unfair practices to stop," which seems aimed at both these issues. Later he was much more explicit:

And I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago.

But I say this: We have made progress and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps. ... We’ve been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.

Pausing to point out that he did what was within his direct control by extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, he then took on DOMA specifically, including that brief:

I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act to help end discrimination against same-sex couples in this country. Now, I want to add we have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides. And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law. I’ve made that clear.

He then mentioned his commitment to the Matthew Shepard act and a new law that would guarantee health and other benefits to domestic partners, as well as rescinding the ban on entry into the United States by HIV-positive persons (a policy so ridiculous that many people are amazed to hear it even exists). Then he took on DADT:

And finally, I want to say a word about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” As I said before — I’ll say it again — I believe “don’t ask, don’t tell” doesn’t contribute to our national security. In fact, I believe preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security.

Now, my administration is already working with the Pentagon and members of the House and the Senate on how we’ll go about ending this policy, which will require an act of Congress.

... I know that every day that passes without a resolution is a deep disappointment to those men and women who continue to be discharged under this policy — patriots who often possess critical language skills and years of training and who’ve served this country well. But what I hope is that these cases underscore the urgency of reversing this policy not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is essential for our national security.

Essentially, this makes explicit what I had assumed was his position on gay rights: important, but not worth blowing political capital on so early in the game. He has to get healthcare out of the way and fix the economy. I don't want him concentrating on anything else, even my rights, until those two are under control.

* And what would be so bad about that, anyway?