Thursday, December 23, 2010

Is Obama finally moving forward on gay rights?


President Obama, although he still supports civil unions over same-sex marriage, said yesterday that he believes the Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed.

"Repealing DOMA, getting ENDA [a bill to protect LGBT people from discrimination] done, those are things that should be done," Obama told The Advocate the night before signing Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal into law. "I think those are natural next steps legislatively. I'll be frank with you, I think that's not going to get done in two years. We're on a three- or four-year time frame unless there's a real transformation of attitudes within the Republican caucus."

The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in 1996, defines marriage as strictly heterosexual. It's currently facing multiple legal challenges, including two cases from Massachusetts in which a federal judge already ruled that part of the law is unconstitutional. Obama's Justice Department is defending DOMA

The Justice Department has to defend DOMA regardless of what the president's own position on the law, but what we seem to be getting here is a signal from Obama that he has a plan and will work towards full equality for homosexuals.

The problem is, there won't be "a real transformation of attitudes within the Republican caucus," nor even a fake one. The Republican Party, individual dissenters aside, is anti-gay. And so it is highly unlikely that DOMA will be repealed anytime soon.

Still, it is noteworthy that Obama is speaking out more forcefully than usual on gay rights. He even told The Advocate that he's "wrestling" with same-sex marriage. The preference for civil unions over marriage rights is a cowardly cop-out, of course, and I've long thought, giving him the benefit of the doubt, that Obama actually supports marriage equality but just doesn't want to take that position publicly.

I just wonder if this is all just hot air for the base. After all, will Obama really push for DOMA repeal? (And, from there, for marriage equality?) Will he spend his political capital on gay rights? Sure, DADT repeal was a major victory for him, but it happened more in spite of Obama than because of him -- he never aggressively pushed for it and, of course, repeal only came after military leaders called for it and after a military study (and public opinion polls) showed overwhelming support for it. By the time DADT was repealed, it was safe to be against DADT -- and Obama knew it.

And now? Don't count on much happening. I don't want to be overly critical here, but Obama will be able to ride the wave of DADT repeal for a while, basking in its glow, and there won't be any urgency for him to turn his attention to DOMA, not with Republicans in control in the House, with Democrats far from a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and with more pressing political concerns to attend to in the lead-up to 2012.

So, yes, call me a cynic.

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