Richard Socarides, adviser on gay rights to President Bill Clinton during his second term, wrote "Where's Our 'Fierce Advocate'?", an op-ed in the Washington Post which questions President Obama's silence on LGBT issues since his election.
In December, while trying to quiet the furor over his invitation of Rick Warren to take part in his inauguration, Barack Obama reminded us that he had been a "consistent" and "fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans." But at the end of its first 100 days, his administration has been neither.Socarides recognizes that Obama has a lot on his hands but also points out that Obama's been willing to exploit the change in the political atmosphere to tackle many reform issues, including relations with Cuba to stem cell research. He points out that people are distracted by the economy and war and are willing to try new approaches.
What makes this especially disappointing is that it comes during a crisis-driven "change moment" in our country's history that not only cries out for leadership but presents a particularly good climate for making substantial progress on gay equality.
The court ruling legalizing gay marriage in Iowa represents a real opening, an opportunity to get "undecideds" to take another look not only at gay marriage but at gay rights in general. As Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin remarked, many Americans may be asking themselves, "If the [Iowa] Supreme Court said this, maybe I have to think anew."So why isn't Obama moving on LGBT issues? Because he's scared to repeat Clinton's 1993 Don't Ask Don't Tell debacle, and with the lack of an LGBT advisor, he's moving on a faulty strategy of cautiousness and silence. Socarides offers four points of advice to the president.
- Talk about gay rights again like Obama did during the campaign, underscoring his message of inclusion that got him elected in the first place. Since being president, he's only referred to the LGBT population when while defending his choice for inaugural speakers. That's it. NOTHING on the Iowa ruling, a landmark civil rights decision.
- Move swiftly to secure the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act as well as the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
- Appoint a "high-ranking, respected, openly gay policy advocate to oversee government efforts toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality." Karen Ocamb on the Huffington Post nominates several good candidates for this post.
- Champion a comprehensive, omnibus federal gay civil rights legislation, similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such a bill should also provide for federal recognition of both civil unions and marriages as they are authorized by specific states.
The right-wing has fallen apart and any argument they present sounds juvenile. Historical advances are being made in the nation for marriage equality while polls for the first time ever are showing the support for same-sex marriage outnumbers those who oppose it.
President Obama ran a campaign branded on actual "change" and the nation bought the ticket, riding the "Yes We Can" bullet train to a better tomorrow. If the president doesn't do something quick, though, he's going to be rapidly left behind at the train station, while the "we" in "Yes We Can" evolves into a definition that excludes him.
He needs to follow-through, or the nation will leave him behind.
As Michael Lux told Karen Ocamb on her post about Obama, "either we believe in equal rights for all - or we don't."
I need to know you believe in my equality, President Obama. Otherwise, I'll achieve it without you.
See polls results for: "Do you think President Obama will keep his promises to the LGBT community in the U.S.?"