Thursday, February 28, 2008

Unfortunately, on Gay Rights, Barack Obama does not stand for change ...

At least in terms of rhetoric, thus far in the Presidential election season Senator Barack Obama has been the most open to being the president for all Americans, including those of differing sexual orientations.

The substance, however, is just as lacking in Mr. Hope as it is in the She-Clinton or McCain, reports Outright Libertarians:

Barack Obama has endorsed segregation based on sexual orientation in a recent campaign missive to LGBTQ voters:

I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment.

It's particularly disappointing, though not surprising, that the Democratic front-runner would embrace 'separate and unequal' while providing an Orwellian discourse on 'equality.'

Obama provides a laundry list of other things he promises he'll try, maybe possibly, if he can get around to it, to get done as president:

Unlike Senator Clinton, I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether.

So has the Senator introduced legislation to do this in the Senate now? Nope.

I have also called for us to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Has the Senator supported companion legislation in the Senate for the already-House-introduced MREA that would end the anti-gay policy? Nope.

I have worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system.

Actually, Obama has done nothing other than declare he opposes UAFA because it will 'facilitate immigration fraud.' That's quite a hilarious contention -- that a few hundred people would slip through the system under UAFA -- when thousands get marriages of convenience under the existing marriage system.

Once again, Barack Obama is demanding a separate, more difficult arrangement for same-gender couples than for heterosexual ones. And he's done nothing legislatively or otherwise related to UAFA other than refuse to cosponsor the bill.

I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for all LGBT Americans. But neither will I close my ears to the voices of those who still need to be convinced.

In other words, Obama will send a couple of open letters to gay people when he wants their votes, but will insist that anti-gay discrimination is a legitimate 'alternative choice' that deserves equal consideration.

Imagine if a presidential candidate had made similar commitments to 'not close his ears' to the voices of KKK supporters in the 1960s vis-a-vis equal rights for black Americans.

Is it true? Is Barack Obama an empty suit on gay rights issues?

Or is the grim reality the fact that the electorate as a whole are unwilling to embrace full civil rights for gay American citizens, and that in terms of electoral success queer issues are more of a third rail than Social Security?


But at least on this issue it seems that Barack Obama stands more for rhetoric than reality.


Waldo said...

I read the Outright Libertarians posting with some interest, having read the Obama letter earlier in the day.

Some thoughts occur to me after considering the two together.

Overall, the OL posting strikes me as the manifesting the understandable frustration and impatience of people who can't see why we can't have it all, now. Absolutism has its merits, among them that by comparison pretty much everyone else will come up short. Every party has such folks. Whether 'tis nobler to settle for the scrums and compromises and get part of a loaf now, or hold out for all or nothing, is a mix of one's views of both strategy and tactics in the political world.

That said, it struck me that no candidate in the forty years I've been involved in politics has said as much as Obama does in his letter. To slap a black candidate for advocating segregation strikes me as unfair, and ad hominem on the level of Bubba Clinton's South Carolina campaign spree.

So I give Obama points for recognizing gays and lesbians exist and proposing concrete steps he would take, not as a sitting senator, but as an elected president (more about that shortly). I never expect to hear The Clintons say or write anything like it in my lifetime, based on the She-Clinton's utterances so far in her campaign and their overall wretched record. It's easy to forget things like Bubba's tepid opposition to DOMA in 1996- first it was unconstitutional, later it was gay-bashing, later he'd sign it holding his nose, and in the end he ran re-election ads on black radio stations taking credit for signing it).

But I digress. Let me consider the bill of particulars OL posts.

1. He believes civil unions are the best way to go. This gets slammed in more racially charged language as separate but equal, and, at the same time,Orwellian.

Obama goes on to say he doesn't believe the federal government should bar the states from trying out their own approaches to this issue- "whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage."

One might suppose letting federalism serve its intended purpose, rather than chivvying Obama for failing to somehow deliver a top-down, federal one size fits all marriage plan. Certainly the Republicans want to limit the states' right to federalism to matters they approve of, and so want to blast states' rights shut with their various iterations of a federal marriage amendment.

2. "Obama provides a laundry list of other things he promises he'll try, maybe possibly, if he can get around to it, to get done as president:"

People have the right to be peevish in public, so I full-throatedly defend OL's conclusion that because they don't take Obama seriously, he doesn't mean anything he says.

OL then rolls out Obama's laundry list, which the define as three items- legislation on DOMA, Don't Ask, Don'Tell, and immigration reform under the Uniting American Families Act.

One could note that Obama's letter also talks about his sponsorship of legislation to equalize tax treatment for same sex couples (which would give real effect to state created unions or marriages), equal benefits to partners of federal employees, adoption of the employment nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws, lobying states to provide equal treatment in adoption and family law; and HIV/AIDS issues. I suppose OL thought those were even less noteworthy than the others they critique but that is just a guess. My view is as posited above: for a major presidential candidate it's a pretty major recognition of gay rights issues out in front of God and everybody.

3. Obama hasn't sponsored legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, or a Senate counterpart to the Meehan bill to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the House.

It strikes me that's a fair comment only since January 2007, when the Democrats retook control of Congress, and since then, just barely one. Before that, the Meehan bill was parked in subcommittee by the Republican majority, and DOMA- if there were bills introdcued for repeal, I haven't looked- either did, or would have, met the same fate.

Since last year, we have a House that can pass things by majority vote sometimes (they fractured over ENDA's transgender inclusion, for example), while in the Senate the filibuster effectively requires sixty votes- 9 more than the Democrats have.

So I suppose Obama could have introduced bills on both topics as an exercise in feelgoodism, but doing so wouldn't have changed the dynamics of the legislative process since he has been a senator. Other than as such an exercise, it's not apparent Obama would need to file a senate bill on these things if he agreed with the House versions. If they pass the House, they come to the Senate. They get voted on.

OL's comments on the Uniting Families bill- that a few hundred people slipping through "when thousands get marriages of convenience under the existing marriage system"- is ill-explained by OL, but it seems to safe to assume the bill doesn't seek to restrict people from entering into marriages that are legal if unloving or insincere. I can't say whether a few hundred "people" (gay? straight? orange?) will or won't slip through cause I don't know and OL doesn't say, but supporting laws with deomstrable loopholes (which, in the context of immigration, might one day involve more than a few hundred folks) makes much sense, even if the result would be the gratification of the libertarian in us all.

The rest of OL's comments seem to focus on Obama's declaration that on gay issues he wants a dialogue in which both sides are heard. Once again, the odd references to racism appear, this time comparing Obama's desire that all be heard to listening to KKK supporters on the rights of black Americans.

Obama's comments in his letter are more thoughtful than that. He rightly notes you don't get much done until you get enough people to support it. In the case of gay rights, you talk with people. When you consider the progress of the last twenty years- in which marriage has gone from a fanciful immpossibility to a subject of active debate, and civil unions are a mainstream REPUBLICAN alternative for many, it's apparent that the increasing visiblity and outspokenness of gays and their allies is changing minds- not of the KKK sorts, but the vast electoral middle in which such things get fought out.

President Roosevelt once met with a group of activists about some legislation they wanted. "You've convinced me," he told them. "Not go out there and get the public to make me do it."

Maybe gay people DO want a president who would do what a Libertarian president would do," as OL concludes. All I can say is, when you get one who can be elected, and get not one but two opposing parties to go along, I'll be all over the guy.

Waldo said...

Further to my previous postig, here's an account of Obama's speech in Beaumont Texas yesterday by Ben Smith at Politico:

Obama's rally in Beaumont today was the highest-energy of this Texas swing, with a crowd that was about three-quarters black cheering at almost every turn.

An interesting moment came when he was asked a question about LGBT rights and delivered an answer that seemed to suit the questioner, listing the various attributes — race, gender, etc. — that shouldn't trigger discrimination, to successive cheers. When he came to saying that gays and lesbians deserve equality, though, the crowd fell silent.

So he took a different tack:

"Now I’m a Christian, and I praise Jesus every Sunday," he said, to a sudden wave of noisy applause and cheers.

"I hear people saying things that I don’t think are very Christian with respect to people who are gay and lesbian," he said, and the crowd seemed to come along with him this time.

The moment reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a senior figure in the national gay rights movement, who noted that Obama's deference to some black Christian discomfort with homosexuality — his refusal to dump the "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin from a tour — angered some gays and lesbians; but conversely, that his ability to sell gay rights in the black church is unique and appealing.