Sunday, May 24, 2009

LGBT Rights Movement Lacks National Political Voice

Frank Rich of the New York Times, a loyal ally to the LGBT population, recently wrote a piece La Cage aux Democrats, in which he writes about how Obama's campaign refrain, "Change" is hardly heard now that the steel cold reality of the Oval Office has come into play.

Yet the country is changing without him, with polls indicating support for LGBT rights is fast growing, especially in regards to Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Rich writes:
And yet the changes aren’t coming as fast as many gay Americans would like, and as our Bill of Rights would demand. Especially in Washington. Despite Barack Obama’s pledges as a candidate and president, there is no discernible movement on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy or the Defense of Marriage Act. Both seem more cruelly discriminatory by the day.
Rich rightly states that the problem doesn't lie with the ever-shrinking GOP or the mostly ignored right-wing "wingnuts" but with the Democrats, who has a legacy under Bill Clinton of enacting DADT and DOMA, after giving the LGBT population promises of support.

The Democrats have the votes to pass gay civil rights measures and to repeal the blotches on their record, but do they have the guts? "They have a seriously responsibility to do so," says Rich.
So what’s stopping the Democrats from rectifying that legacy now? As [Evan] Wolfson [of Freedom to Marry] said to me last week, they lack “a towering national figure to make the moral case” for full gay civil rights. There’s no one of that stature in Congress now that Ted Kennedy has been sidelined by illness, and the president shows no signs so far of following the example of L.B.J., who championed black civil rights even though he knew it would cost his own party the South. When Obama invoked same-sex marriage in an innocuous joke at the White House correspondents’ dinner two weeks ago — he and his political partner, David Axelrod, went to Iowa to “make it official” — it seemed all the odder that he hasn’t engaged the issue substantively.

“This is a civil rights moment,” Wolfson said, “and Obama has not yet risen to it.”
. . . Obama has long been, as he says, a fierce advocate for gay equality. The Windy City Times has reported that he initially endorsed legalizing same-sex marriage when running for the Illinois State Senate in 1996. The most common rationale for his current passivity is that his plate is too full. But the president has so far shown an impressive inclination both to multitask and to argue passionately for bedrock American principles when he wants to. Relegating fundamental constitutional rights to the bottom of the pile until some to-be-determined future seems like a shell game.

As Wolfson reminds us in his book “Why Marriage Matters,” Dr. King addressed such dawdling in 1963. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait,’ ” King wrote. “It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’”
I couldn't agree more with Rich's piece. I also see a chance for the Democrats to take the lead now or forever pay for the consequences.

She may not speak for the whole Republican Party, but Meghan McCain's outspoken support for LGBT rights is a sure sign of the shift taking place not only in America, but of the traditional platforms held by the parties. If the Democrats don't take advantage of their political capital, the desperate Republicans could easily cease McCain's lead because right now, because all their arguments against change is alienating them even more from America's progressive movement.

Unfortunately, I don't see this happening any time soon. So we need to keep pushing Obama to be the leader his campaign promised he would be.

With Obama scheduled to be in Los Angeles the day the California Supreme rules on Prop 8, he could easily take the opportune moment to rise up and be the national political voice for the change he promised, starting with being an outspoken ally for LGBT rights.

This would demand taking risks. History shows this. But Obama promised change and being a leader of change isn't easy. But doing what is right as a leader never is.

(This visit has not gone unnoticed - there is a friendly demonstration calling for Obama's support for LGBT rights planned outside of the DNC dinner which Obama plans to attend in Beverly Hills. More on this to come.)

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