Friday, March 13, 2009

Obama Cornered on Federal Benefits for Gay Employees and Spouses

Though I appreciate everything that President Obama has done, everything he has said and everything he stands for, the time has come to put his money where his mouth is. The gauntlet has been dropped.

In many interviews during his presidential campaign (and some before), he's been quoted as saying that he supports full equal rights for gays and lesbians. The fact that he doesn't support gay marriage but still says he supports equal rights is a discussion for another time. What is occurring now? The Obama Administration is experiencing pressure from the rulings of two federal judges stating that the federal government cannot hide behind DOMA to avoid giving benefits to employees in a same-sex relationship. So if these judges are to enforce their ruling (which the plaintiffs in the case are pushing for because the rulings weren't mere statements, they require consequences), how will the president respond?

The president is swept up in a historical, economical crisis in which he needs both parties of Congress on his side in order to pull the country out from its mire. Because of this, many argue that the LGBT issue is not a priority. But I disagree. Without the rights and full protections that marriage laws provide, same-sex couples have higher expenses, less disposable income and as a result, less money flows through our dry economy. (Not to mention all the money put back into the economy from all those weddings.) But putting the economic crisis aside, when in the history of our country have civil rights taken a back seat to a temporary crisis? Never.

And yes, this recession is temporary.

The Obama Administration has yet to fully answer inquiries about how they plan to respond if the federal judges do in fact demand enforcement. Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, told the New York Times: “While the president opposes gay marriage, he supports legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. He believes this country must realize its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”

But Richard Socarides, a New York lawyer who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay issues, said he believed that Mr. Obama “has broad discretionary authority to find ways to ameliorate some of the more blatant examples of discrimination.”

So will he?

So far, President Obama hasn't done much or given any signs of the advancement of LGBT rights. Little encouragement has come from his administration. And responses to questions have been evasive and done by rote.

The administration should see this as an opportunity instead of a quagmire to avoid, an opportunity to uphold the ideals that Obama has preached and as a result, bridge divides. Not only can offering benefits to gay federal employees, who are both Republican and Democrat, be a "practice what you preach" sign from the president, it will also ensure the support he needs from the large moderate and liberal base that got him elected. And if he's to save our economy by issuing controversial bills that needs the approval of both side of the aisle in Congress, he's going to need all the support he can get.

I'm eager to give it. I'm just waiting for my sign.

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