This was surely an important week for the rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, with the passing and signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “Repeal” Act. I’ve been using quotes around “repeal,” because it’s not really repealed, and it won’t be for several months.
What has amazed me most about the celebration this week is the complete exoneration of President Obama.
I will admit this much: President Obama said he wanted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be repealed. But Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (“after, therefore because”) is one of the most classic logical fallacies (so much so Aaron Sorkin introduced it to The West Wing in episode 2), and it’s clearly what’s at play here.
The championing of our President as a gay rights hero still seems unearned and undeserved. When I look at how we got from the State of the Union to this week, there isn’t much I like. First, there was the big, expensive, redundant, time-wasting study of our troops’ prejudice to see if they could tolerate their homophobia being challenged. Then there was the President’s opposition to Congress taking any legislative approach to repeal (at least not before the study was done!). Then there was the awful compromise that we’re now realizing, the fact that repeal doesn’t mean repeal; it means months more of discharges.
And honestly, it’s unclear what role the President had in moving anything forward in that period of time. He reiterated his opposition to the policy, but that’s it. If he spent any political capital, it was only for the State of the Union mention. Otherwise, I didn’t see much bully pulpit action going on. If anything, the focus was more on looking supportive of gay rights while largely being hands-off. There was the big secret DADT meeting back at the end of October where he made a drop-in, which was sufficiently leaked for his benefit. Then I guess he made some phone calls on Saturday morning.
Did President Obama have a big secret plan for advancing gay rights? Or did he have a big secret plan for maintaining the loyalty of the gay community while lots of other people got the work done?
I’m sorry, but I think the only reason this is Obama’s victory is because he called dibs.
The President continued the gay PR tour this week by giving an interview with Kerry Eleveld of The Advocate. He offered a lot of stark reminders of how far behind he is on being a fierce advocate. Read how smarmy he gets about his ambivalence on marriage equality, as if to channel Sarah Palin saying, “Stop asking me GOTCHA questions.” (Note: They weren’t.)
Well, no doubt I think a pivotal moment. And I know that so many people who voted for you, LGBT folks who voted for you, did so because they believe that you were a fierce supporter of equality. Given what you’ve just said, Mr. President, do you think it’s time that gays and lesbians should be entitled to full marriage rights?
Well, I spoke about this recently with some bloggers who were here…
Mr. Joe Sudbay.
Yes, and Joe asked me the same question. And since I’ve been making a lot of news over the last several weeks, I’m not going to make more news today. The sentiment I expressed then is still where I am—which is, like a lot of people, I’m wrestling with this. My attitudes are evolving on this. I have always firmly believed in having a robust civil union that provides the rights and benefits under the law that marriage does. I’ve wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.
And squaring that circle is something that I have not done yet, but I’m continually asking myself this question and I do think that—I will make this observation, that I notice there is a big generational difference. When you talk to people who are in their 20s, they don’t understand what the holdup is on this, regardless of their own sexual orientation. And obviously when you talk to older folks, then there’s greater resistance.
And so this is an issue that I’m still wrestling with, others are still wrestling with. What I know is that at minimum, a baseline is that there has to be a strong, robust civil union available to all gay and lesbian couples.
Can you imagine a time when you would get there? I mean, you say “evolving,” and that sort of assumes that you get somewhere. Can you imagine a time of getting there?
I’m going to stick with my answer. [Laughter.]
OK. So, looking forward, I know that there are—many of your LGBT supporters would have wished for more in the first two years. And it’s never enough, of course…
I’ve found that. [Laughter.]
And especially like passing employment nondiscrimination…
And, in fairness, by the way, that is true of every single group of supporters that I have. I mean, there’s not a single constituency that doesn’t think we could be doing more.
And true of every civil rights movement.
This is besides the fact that the square was quite square 14 years ago when he did support marriage equality. These days, politics get priority, and after all, the LGBT community is just another whiny constituency who isn’t happy with how much we’ve gotten. (Read the rest of the interview to see him avoid answering whether sexual orientation should be a protected class and to see him admit there’s no hope for ENDA or DOMA-repeal for at least another two years. Also, watch the press briefing where he defends his answer on marriage by talking about his gay friends and employees.)
If anything, President Obama’s lack of fortitude patience regarding LGBT issues continues to enable our detractors to feel content not fully supporting us. If the President is unsure about marriage equality, then it’s okay if I am too. I am bothered even more by the sense that a steadied approach is a good one for equality. It’s good spin for denying delaying equality, but it’s not good for the people who are still unequal. It’s certainly not good for the troops who have to continue lying or even avoiding contact with their loved ones while away at war.
And as Shannon Cuttle pointed out yesterday, there are still a lot of issues to be addressed just with DADT. The policy change does nothing for transgender or gender-nonconforming servicemembers, nor does it do anything to make military academies more welcoming places.
So, what’s the deal folks? Why does our fierce advocate deserve all the credit this week? Was he really such a mover and shaker in this effort?
Or does this speak to the continued desperation of our movement? We got a victory, so we have to be so gracious to anyone and everyone who played a part, even if they weren’t the most helpful, even if they held us back, and even if they continue to make harmful mistakes. It doesn’t matter that we’ve got years and years to go in which we will continue to experience government-sanctioned discrimination; this week, none of our allies can do wrong.
Boy, our bar is low.