Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama's DOMA Fail

Given Barack Obama's impotence on LGBT rights thus far into his presidency and the duty of the Department of Justice to enforce current US law, it comes as no surprise that Obama's Department of Justice (DOJ) is defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that prevents same-sex couples from receiving any of the federal benefits, rights, and privileges of marriage. What is more surprising, and extremely disappointing, is that the DOJ brief deploys arguments that are to be expected from rightwing anti-gays, not from certain liberal Democrats who claim to be "fierce advocates" for the LGBT community.

You may read the brief over at Pam's House Blend, embedded within a post that gives an excellent run-down of its arguments and subsequent responses by LGBT organizations. Some of the arguments included within the brief include the argument that DOMA is good because it saves the federal government money (since surviving same-sex partners cannot receive Social Security Survivors benefits, for instance), that no analogy exists between bans on inter-racial marriage and bans on same-sex marriage, and that DOMA doesn't discriminate against lesbians and gay men because lesbians and gay men are already free to marry people of the opposite sex. Strangely, the brief also argues that DOMA is actually "neutral" towards marriage equality, despite the fact that in the reality-based world it prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.

I have addressed these substantive arguments previously and the links are embedded above. So, putting aside those issues, I want to focus today on another topic. Namely that, from the Obama Administration, the LGBT community has endured one slap in the face after another. Personally, I was willing to let the Rick Warren thing go. I could see, after all, that a reasonable person might think that a symbolic gesture to unite our nation was more important than Rick Warren's previous vilifications of our community. Then, when the Obama Administration announced that repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell would have to wait, I took that at face value and continued to hold out HopeChangeyChange that he would eventually follow through with his campaign promise once he finished More Important Business.

But now, to support DOMA, the most sweeping piece of legislation that prevents same-sex couples from full legal equality, and to use asinine rightwing homobigoted arguments in the process, that's strike three in my book. And yes, the Department of Justice has a duty to defend current laws, but past presidents (and Obama, in a different instance) have refused to do so when "there are important political and social issues at stake." While many of us in the LGBT community have suspected that Obama secretly favored marriage equality despite his statements to the contrary, I think some of us, myself included, were giving him too much credit.

The Obama Administration's new line is now that DOMA will be repealed before his term ends at some unspecified future date. That's nice. But promises at this point are empty when his Administration unnecessarily and counter-productively just elevated offensive fringe arguments into the mainstream. During his presidency, the Obama Administration has consistently validated every homophobe out there and has made it just a little bit easier for people to continue thinking it's acceptable to treat LGBT people poorly and enshrine discrimination into law.

I'm neither a Democrat or a Republican, but at least with McCain and Palin we would have known what we were getting. So, for now, I'm officially "neutral" towards President Obama.

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