Sunday, June 21, 2009

Former Army Secretary Says End DADT

In a powerful interview with Democracy Now, the former Army Secretary under Jimmy Carter, Clifford Alexander, spoke out forcefully for ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

While the Obama DOJ filing of the brief in DOMA has gotten the most attention for glbt activists, his department's filing to the Supreme Court, defending DADT, is equally troubling.

Despite the fact that Turkey is the only other NATO nation that does not integrate gays into the military, and that there is now a demonstrable global model that proves that gays serving openly do not disrupt military cohesion (an absurd argument to begin with), the Obama folks still trotted out that argument, claiming that the policy is, in fact,
"rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion.”

In the interview with Amy Goodman, former Secretary Alexander had the following to say:
The policy is an absurdity and borderline on being an obscenity. What it does is cause people to ask of themselves that they lie to themselves, that they pretend to be something that they are not. There is no empirical evidence that would indicate that it affects military cohesion. There is a lot of evidence to say that the biases of the past have been layered onto the United States Army.

It has several negative ramifications. One is the fact that the people who are presently serving, and that’s thousands and thousands who are gays and lesbians, they have to lie every day. It’s like asking a Jewish person to act like he or she is a Muslim, or asking a Catholic to act like he or she is Buddhist, taking their fundamental values and exchanging it for silence. A second issue is, of course, that people who would want to serve in this nation’s armed services, because of their specific orientation sexually, they will not do so because they don’t want to engage in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

What we need to have, I think immediately, is an urgency about this issue and an urgency that goes well beyond the President of the United States, but also to the Congress, because it’s my understanding that the legislation has to be repealed with other legislation. So, as I understand, in the House there is some movement in that direction, but what I do not sense is that there is an urgency about this issue on the part of Americans, whatever their particular sexual orientation might be. This isn’t really just about, obviously, gay or lesbian people. It’s about what we stand for as a country, what the military is, how we can get the best skills in that military, and that—most importantly, I think, the way we are treating people who presently have to lie about their particular sexual orientation. It’s not the way this country should operate.

Watch the above interview, which also includes Nathanial Frank, who penned "Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America."

Non-deceiving gays in the military are still being discharged at the rate of about 2 per day. That Obama cannot immediately issue a stop-loss order to prevent further discharges, while the policy is under review, is unconscionable. And Obama had not even initiated steps that might someday lead to lifting DADT. What is he waiting for?

Since President Obama seems to always react out of fear of offending the right-wing, it is puzzling that, even when the majority of Conservatives polled support ending DADT, the president can't just take the initiative to do the right thing.

For the transcript of the above interview, click here.

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.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Former Clinton Staffer Speaks Out On Obama

Former Bill Clinton staffer Richard Socarides (pictured) has just penned a fine essay on John Aravosis' Americablog, which explains why President Obama did not need to have his Justice Department prepare a highly-homophobic brief in defense of DOMA.

For those who may not be aware, the DOMA defense from Obama's team included language that compared gay marriage to incest and said the government could not afford the cost it would allegedly incur if gays were allowed to marry. For those who would like to follow that story, Americablog is as good a place as any for comprehensive coverage.

Socarides, ironically enough, is the son of legendary homophobe Charles Socarides, who championed the lie that gays could be cured by therapy.

There seems to be a concerted effort from the White House to put out talking points, suggesting that Obama's DOJ had no choice but to vigorously defend DOMA. Some have even gone so far as to trash Mr. Aravosis' blog and accuse him of stirring up hysteria and over-reaction

In his blog post, the younger Socarides wrote:
I was...troubled by the administration’s explanation that they had no choice but to defend the law. As an attorney and as someone who was directly involved in giving advice on such matters to another president (as a Special Assistant for civil rights to President Bill Clinton), I know that this is untrue.
Socarides continues:
I know and accept the fact that one of the Department of Justice's roles is to (generally) defend the law against constitutional attack. But not in all cases, certainly not in this case – and not in this way. To defend this brief is to defend the indefensible.

From my experience, in a case where, as here, there are important political and social issues at stake, the president’s relationship with the Justice Department should work like this: The president makes a policy decision first and then the very talented DOJ lawyers figure out how to apply it to actual cases. If the lawyers cannot figure out how to defend a statute and stay consistent with the president’s policy decision, the policy decision should always win out.
Thus, the general rule that the DOJ must defend laws against attack is relative – like everything in Washington. And even when the DOJ does defend a law against constitutional attack, it does not have to advance every conceivable argument in doing so (such as the brief’s invocation, in a footnote, of incest and the marriage of children). In fact, many legal experts believe that in this particular case none of the issues going to the merits of whether or not DOMA is constitutional needed to be addressed to get the case thrown out. The administration’s lawyers could have simply argued, for example, that the plaintiff’s had no standing. There was no need to invoke legal theories that were not only offensive on their face, but which could put at risk future legal efforts on behalf of our civil rights.

I am not suggesting that it is easy to get the DOJ to agree not to defend a law on the merits, because it is not. Someone has to be aggressive and make persuasive arguments to the president. Someone on a staff level has to believe strongly that it is the right thing to, not defending DOMA, and be willing to push hard. But it is doable. It does happen. It is one of the reasons the president needs to appoint a high-ranking, respected, openly gay policy advocate to oversee government efforts toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality (as I and others have previously urged).
Again, I recommend your visiting Americablog to read the full essay and read the ongoing coverage.

I know, during Pride month, various glbt groups ask for your donations and support. This year, to make sure your dollars are actually counting for something, ask them what their response to this DOJ filing was. I also would highly recommend on witholding all future dollars and support to both the Presidend and the entire Democratic Party until we actually see that they see gay people as a constituency that actually matters.

Up to now, all Obama has done is throw gays under the bus. And nobody is holding him accountable.

Let's Try This Again

The following is the text of a comment I posted at The Atlantic earlier today:

I was a glbt activist voice online in the 90s and early part of this decade. One of the reasons I pulled back is that I thought glbt interest groups were not consistent and were more interested in access, and cocktail parties, than change.

My biggest gripe with the 'gay rights establishment' was the hypocrisy over who they officially chose to mourn, and get angry about. Matthew Shepard was the death that galvanized everyone. That was correct to do. But what about Sakia Gunn (pictured above), the 15-year old African-American lesbian murdered in Newark in 2003? What about Steven Goedereis, a 29-year old man, murdered the same year Shepard was? His 2 teen killers alleged that the victim came onto him. It was the same old 'gay panic' motive, which was not supported by evidence and turned out to be a blatant lie. This man was targeted, and stomped so badly that blood shot up to an overhang. At the highly publicized trial, not one representative from a glbt organization could even be bothered to attend. I remember Mr. Goedereis' surviving partner contacting me and thanking me for being the only one that seemed to take an interest in the case.

Where was the outrage for the other victims of gay hate crimes, some of which made national headlines, but garnered no publicity, unlike Shepard. What about the murder of African-American gay man, James Byrd, who was dragged from the back of a truck? No, the only one worthy of the glbt collective anger was Matthew Shepard. But then, he looked like the people you would see in the glbt magazines. I found it disheartening, to say the least.

In the interim I have focused more on progressive politics in general, in another incarnation, I had been an avid blogger for Mr. Obama. I have seen how well that turned out.

It was Pat Buchanan's Culture Wars speech that first caused me to come out and become an activist. It is the current President's DOJ brief on DOMA that makes me realize that maybe glbt issues should be back in focus.

At the moment, I do not have any cocktail parties to distract me from speaking out.