Right now, there is a Judiciary Committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, the discriminatory act that denies same-sex partners federal benefits. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced the support of the President for the bill.
Jay Carney said Obama was “proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act” to “take DOMA off the books once and for all.” “This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples,” he added.
Chuck Grassley just straight-up lied in his opening statement, saying that the President “until yesterday” supported DOMA. The President has always said he would like DOMA repealed. For a while, his Justice Department has defended DOMA as Constitutional in court proceedings, but that has now ended as well.
The path to passage does not look likely as long as Republicans control the House, but Presidential leadership does mean something in this case, and it’s another example of the White House’s evolving views on gay civil rights. In addition to this endorsement and the imminent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the President has engaged in a series of smaller steps to promote gay equality, from hate crimes legislation to hospital-visitation rights to lifting the HIV travel ban to, just yesterday, the successful confirmation of the first openly gay federal judge in history. And there are more beyond that.
I think “evolving” is the right way to explain this, and it’s important to understand why. When the President had troubles with the LGBT community early in his term, between foot-dragging on promised policies and the heinous DOMA brief comparing gay relationships to incest and bestiality, activists rebelled. They created donor boycotts and heckled Obama at rallies and chained themselves to the White House fence. They showed the political cost of not following through on promises to the LGBT community. And that led to results. The White House figured out that there was a greater cost to ignoring the gay rights movement than to acknowledging it and working on its behalf. There was a new cost-benefit analysis that had to be made.
THAT was part of the politics of all this, undeniably. The LGBT activists set themselves up for a situation where they could be disappointed. They demanded action on their priorities. And they broke through. They worked to get 100% of what they wanted and they are succeeding. They are very honorable, despite not “growing up” and resigning themselves to compromise.
It’s a good lesson.