Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fallout From Obama's DOJ DOMA Brief

I am pleasantly surprised to see some solid pushback to the recent Obama DOJ filing of a brief in defense of DOMA.

Initially, it appeared that the Obama team thought it could defuse the growing rage by sending out various people to attempt to indicate that they were obligated to present a vigorous defense of DOMA. That strategy was seen most clearly by some people who were vigorously posting in the forums at John Aravosis' Americablog, which, to John's credit, was the flashpoint for the pushback.

Then, there was the patronizing, and totally unacceptable response from the leading openly gay person in Obama's Cabinet, John Berry. Mr. Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told the Advocate's, Kerry Eleveld, regarding an alleged comprehensive agenda on glbt political issues,
"Now, I’m not going to pledge -- and nor is the president -- that this is going to be done by some certain date. The pledge and the promise is that, this will be done before the sun sets on this administration – our goal is to have this entire agenda accomplished and enacted into law so that it is secure."
Let me translate this...'nothing may happen in the next 4 years, but if you help us get re-elected, we have a real shot at having our issues get addressed in the next 8.' Oh, and 'thanks for playing.'

The Reaction

First, after surprisingly little initial reaction outside of Americablog, steam picked up rather quickly.

On Monday, Rachel Maddow was front and center on the story with John Dean, who indicated how unfortunate the wording of the brief was and how, as a result, Obama may actually be forced to act sooner on DADT. Both Maddow and Keith Olbermann covered the story today.

Today, the New York Times had a powerful editorial on the subject, chastising Obama for, what they called "A Bad Call On Gay Rights."

The Times editorial began:
The Obama administration, which came to office promising to protect gay rights but so far has not done much, actually struck a blow for the other side last week. It submitted a disturbing brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is the law that protects the right of states to not recognize same-sex marriages and denies same-sex married couples federal benefits. The administration needs a new direction on gay rights.
And added,
In the presidential campaign, President Obama declared that he would work to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Now, the administration appears to be defending it out of a sense of obligation to support a validly enacted Congressional law. There is a strong presumption that the Justice Department will defend federal laws, but it is not an inviolable rule.

If the administration does feel compelled to defend the act, it should do so in a less hurtful way. It could have crafted its legal arguments in general terms, as a simple description of where it believes the law now stands. There was no need to resort to specious arguments and inflammatory language to impugn same-sex marriage as an institution.

The best approach of all would have been to make clear, even as it defends the law in court, that it is fighting for gay rights. It should work to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that bans gay men and lesbians in the military from being open about their sexuality. It should push hard for a federal law banning employment discrimination. It should also work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act in Congress.

Even the HRC, hardly known for stirring the pot, felt moved to react angrily.

However, most chilling to Rahm Emmanuel and the Obama braintrust, was the fear of losing fundraising dollars. To that end, a growing boycott against an upcoming Democratic Party fundraiser featuring VP Joe Biden has apparently produced a few crumbs from the administration.

In a hasty, last-minute leak, sources have let it be known that tomorrow, President Obama plans to announce that same-sex partners of federal employees will soon be entitled to benefits. Obama allegedly plans to announce his decision in the Oval Office.

No word yet, on whether or not Obama plans to also extend those benefits to uncles who are in relationships with their nieces.

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