President Obama is far and away the best friend that gay rights groups have ever had in the White House. He’s appointed more openly gays to every imaginable policy making post both inside and outside the White House. He’s made his record number of openly gay administration appointments in much faster time than Bill Clinton. He did what most presidents don’t do when they make appointments. He did it quietly and he consulted every step of the way with gay activist lobbying groups. Yet, this still isn’t enough for some gay activists. They still take subtle and even open shots at him.
A case in point is Michael Cole, Human Rights Campaign spokesperson. He called the record number of gay appointments significant. But in the same sentence, he tagged on the word “ordinary” to describe them. Ordinary? 150 appointments in less than two years with no fanfare and no effort to downplay the sexual preference of the appointees are hardly “ordinary.” The ambivalence even beef that some gay activists have with and about Obama still comes down to the issue of the president’s one, actually two great unforgiveable sins, in their eyes. He opposed gay marriage in the early years of his campaign, and presidency, and even after he’s softened his stance on the issue, and vigorously opposed Proposition 8, the California initiative that would have effectively banned gay marriage, that still isn’t enough. He reversed his position on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and calls it abhorrent. That still isn’t enough. He issued executive orders mandating that hospitals treat gay and lesbian couples the same as heterosexual ones, and at the same time expand rights for gay couples who work in the federal government, that still isn’t enough for some gay groups.
The other big knock against Obama is that he didn’t have to do anything on the Defense of Marriage Act. That he could have easily kept the White House’s nose out of it by letting the legal challenge to it run its course. Other presidents have done that when they thought a law was unconstitutional or unjust. This argument is blind to what Obama has said and feels about traditional marriage too, not to mention that he made it plain that he wants the law repealed — but repealed through legislation and that he would push for that.
Obama is not a hypocrite or betrayer on gay rights simply because he does not back gay marriage or has not muscled Congress and the military to dump for good DADT. Whenever he’s been asked he’s made it clear that he strongly believes that the only marriage that can be called marriage is between a man and a woman. This has absolutely nothing to do with his solid, and at times outspoken, support of anti-discrimination, civility, and just plain human respect for gay rights. His view on marriage is a personal belief. The important thing, in fact the only thing that should matter, is that personal belief on gay marriage and the political and legal obstacles to final repeal of DADT in no way marks him as any less a staunch advocate of gay rights.
It’s been that way long before he grabbed the White House. Obama backed gay rights in speeches and legislation more than a dozen times as a state legislator and U.S. Senator. The record number of appointments, and the speed with which he’s made them, were just the extension of his personal and political conviction that discrimination against gays is every bit the civil rights issue that discrimination against women and minorities is. Bigotry is bigotry no matter who the target and it must be vigorously and relentlessly opposed. But again, that won’t satisfy the carpers. As one activist flatly said, the frustration of gays over what the administration has not done and even some antipathy to Obama won’t evaporate no matter how many groundbreaking appointments he makes of gays to top positions, and no matter how much respect and the encouragement Obama gives gay groups. It still won’t be enough for some. Short of an openly gay president, Obama is the best friend that gays could have in the White House. To say otherwise is short sighted, insulting and just plain dumb. That’s a pity and their shame.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio in Los Angeles.
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