Saturday, June 13, 2009

POLL: Is Gay Marriage The New Swing Issue?

Since his election, Obama has been silent on gay issues - despite his campaign promises. And now, after first offending with the selection of Rick Warren at the inauguration, then his refusal to issue stop loss orders preventing the discharge of gay soldiers, and now most recently, with his DOJ legal team issuing an offensive report supporting DOMA (the law that discriminates against married gay couples with federal benefits), Obama seems to have finally struck out with the gay community.

Interestingly, however, some influential Republicans have started coming out IN FAVOR of gay marriage; even Dick Cheney has voiced his limited support.

So here's an interesting question. If a Republican presidential candidate in 2012 supported gay marriage, would gays support him or her? Could this be the swing constituency that can lead conservatives back to the White House? Take our poll and say your mind.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What's the Matter with Obama?

or - why are gays becoming increasingly disillusioned with the President?

Quite obviously, Republicans have been quite successful over the past eight years turning gay rights issues into a wedge, and encouraging state-wide initiatives banning gay marriage to help drive conservative voters to the polls. Aside from some stalwart holdouts over at the Log Cabin club, few gays and lesbians are lauding Republicans for these efforts. Yet all evidence suggests that Republican leaders have used the issue as cynically merely to drive their base - few of them seem to really have the heart to push an inimical initiative like, say, a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage.

The question then comes to, are the Democrats really that much better? Two of the most destructive laws over the past twenty years - Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), which requires the expulsion of service members found to be gay, and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits or recognition to gay couples - were proffered by a Democratic president. While Democrats see gays and lesbians as their base - and therefore pander to them as much as Republicans pander to the homophobes - when the rubber hits the road, the real question gays must ask politicians in both parties is: what have you done for (or to) me lately?

One might argue - and count me in this camp - that it is much better to under promise and over deliver, that to make promises you don't intend to keep (or worse, that set things back, as Clinton did). When Hillary Clinton, in her campaign against Obama, promised to repeal DADT but only to "promote marriage rights" rather than strive for a full repeal of DOMA (as Obama said he would do), she was criticized for "triangulating" - putting politics above principal. Obama, meanwhile, clearly promised action on both DADT and DOMA - to essentially undo the wrong done by the last Democratic president. Whatever his intentions, many took him at his word.

Starting with his inauguration, however, Obama's delivery has become more and more suspicious. While his invitation of Rick Warren angered many in the gay community (who felt that it undercut the optimism of his inauguration), others argued to put aside that emotion for the sake of the long-term benefits that Obama would bring when he fulfilled his campaign promises. While intellectually that argument made sense, however smart it was for Obama politically, emotionally it was difficult to see the new President promoting the same anti-gay speakers that the last President did. Gays and lesbians have become very used to being used as the first group to be "thrown over the bus" for political expediency. The question was raised: would Obama do the same? Would he really be able to deliver on his promises.

This is why gays are so carefully reading Obama's messages. Obviously, the President has learned from Clinton's mistakes, and doesn't want to create a political backlash. But times have changed - a clear majority of Americans now support partner benefits for gay partners, and more and more support full marriage equality. Obama needn't be as careful as Clinton needed to in 1992. Yet still Obama seems to be backtracking on his promises - changing campaign language on his website to "change" rather than "repeal" DODT, and pushing back the deadline for introducing legislation. Worse, while even Dick Cheney can make public pronouncements supporting marriage rights, the White House has remained silent while states enact full marriage rights and in the face of defeats such as the Prop 8 decision in California. Where is Obama's vocal support for full marriage rights? He still claims to only support civil unions: Obama is willing to let Dick Cheney outflank him on the left on this issue, which only gives political ammunition to anti-gay crusaders who use Obama's position against equal marriage an argument to sway voters in individual states. Surely Obama realizes that his lack of support is actively hurting gays as they fight these battles from state to state. Perhaps even more telling, Obama has continued Bush administration policies of dismissing gay service members - not even taking the least of actions to put a hold on dismissals, and not even starting the legislation process that would result in repeal.

Even some of Obama's staunches supporters have noticed that the backtracking on his campaign rhetoric: Andrew Sullivan writes compellingly that Obama is once again falling into the trap of "equal rights can wait," as he uses the economy as an excuse to put off action. Next year the excuse will be mid-term elections, and the year after that the excuse will be that he has to campaign for re-election. There is no convenient time for equal rights, yet every day that goes by without action is a disaster on a million different levels for individuals and their families all across the country. It takes very little courage to say you support doing something for gays ten years from now - or even two. Tell that to Dan Choi, or couples like Laurel Hester and Stacy Andree, for whom even tomorrow is too late. What disappoints gays and lesbians and their families most is that Obama's "fierce urgency of now" seems to exclude us. Gays can wait - and those who lose out in the meantime are expendable - says Obama through his silence.

No one expects Obama to tackle every issue at once. Yet clearly he is able to discuss legislation about every other campaign issue except this one. Obama raised expectations with his very clear promises, and gays supported Obama over Clinton because Obama promised more direct action with less political calculation. Given how things worked out with the last Democratic President, gays have real reason to be suspicious. Now we find an Obama who calculates politics, who hems and haws and delays, just as much as any other politician. It may not be surprising, but don't tell us not to be disappointed.