I’ve been thinking it might be better not to comment on the political theater swirling around the quasi-repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It doesn’t seem right to piss on the parade of activists who have worked so hard to get to this moment, and my contempt for President Obama has reached such heights that it may be pointless for me to say anything. Just another angry queer who doesn’t properly appreciate our Fierce Advocate, right? Politifact has already proclaimed this a “Promise Kept” by Obama. Shouldn’t I just shut up about it?
Oh hell, you know I can’t do that.
The president, who still opposes full equality for LGBT people, stands with the vice president, who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, to boast of his great accomplishment and bask in the love of the gay establishment. It’s a nice bit of theater. His speech might even have been inspiring in another context — a context in which it meant something.
Not very inspiring, mind you. About half the speech resembled an Oscar acceptance speech, in which the President acknowledged many of the politicians and military officers who helped make this moment possible. He did tell a story about a gay soldier who served during World War II, and acknowledged the servicemembers who have been driven out of the service under DADT. He didn’t mention that hundreds of them were thrown out on his watch, and under his orders. He didn’t mention that he had defended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in court. He didn’t mention that he has had the legal authority to stop the discharges since the day he took office, but chose not to. Four hundred twenty-eight lesbian and gay servicemembers were discharged during Obama’s first year in the White House. We don’t yet have the figure for the second year.
Today, President Obama said:
That is why I say to all Americans, gay or straight, who want nothing more than to defend this country in uniform, your country needs you, your country wants you, and we will be honored to welcome you into the ranks of the finest military the world has ever known.
But not yet. It was, in fact, the White House that kept this law from having any real effect. When it became clear that the House of Representatives was going to move forward on repealing DADT before the President was ready, it was the Obama administration that pushed a compromise — not with Republicans, mind you, but with the administration — to make sure that if repeal passed, it wouldn’t take effect immediately. It is the Obama administration that, after two years of claiming to be working hard for this moment, still has no timetable for implementation and still hasn’t formulated the policies it deems necessary to implementation. On Monday, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters, “I don’t think anybody has any idea yet how long this will take.” Obama claims to have some idea. “My strong sense is that this is a matter of months,” he said yesterday. “Absolutely not years.” I guess it’s nice to know he has a strong sense of what he might be doing.
Today the President said:
For we are not a nation that says don’t ask, don’t tell. We are a nation that says, out of many we are one. We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.
Not right now, of course. But someday. Someday soon. Really.
We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today.
But not really. Apart from the fact that the President has successfully fended off military service by out lesbians and gay men for a little longer, LGBT Americans are still not equal under the law, and the President has no intention of doing anything about that any time soon.
In Kerry Eleveld’s interview with President Obama yesterday, she asked him about marriage equality. Obama said:
Yes, and Joe [Sudbay] 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.
He’s “wresting with” equality. His attitudes are “evolving.” The interesting thing about that is that in 1996 he said, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” So if his attitude is evolving, it seems to be evolving away from equality, not toward it. The President has “a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples,” but he still can’t bring himself to believe that the marriages of his “very close friends” are on the same level as his own marriage, or that they should be legally recognized. He characterizes accepting same-sex marriage as “squaring that circle.” God only knows what he means by that; he might mean that equality is a logical impossibility, or he might mean it’s some kind of geometry problem. Most likely, he means that he just doesn’t give a good goddam about it.
He reiterates his “support” for a “robust civil union.” Of course, Obama has made it very clear that when he offers his “support” to LGBT equality, he means he supports equality in theory, but not in practice. He does not mean he will do anything to help the LGBT community achieve equality today, or in the next year, or before he leaves office. But that’s almost beside the point. Here we have the morally indefensible display of a black man advocating separate-but-equal status for a minority group. On top of that, it’s an advocacy that means absolutely nothing. Civil unions are accomplished on a state-by-state basis, so that relieves him of any responsibility to do anything. They have no effect at all under federal law, and Obama has done absolutely nothing to change that. His “support” doesn’t just mean nothing. It’s the most thorough and emphatic nothing that any homophobe could wish for.
So what about moving forward on other issues? Does he intend to help us move any closer to equal treatment under the law? Is he going to work to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed? Or the Uniting American Families Act? Or the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act? Hell, no. Not in his first term. He told Eleveld:
I’ll be frank with you, I think that’s not going to get done in two years. I think that’s — we’re on a three- or four-year time frame unless there’s a real transformation of attitudes within the Republican caucus.
And later he repeated that idea:
So what I’m saying is that we’re probably not going — realistically, we’re probably not going to get those done in the next two years unless we see a substantial shift in attitudes within the Republican caucus.
In other words, “Give me a second term and a Democratic Congress, and we’ll talk.” And that’s just bullshit. He did as little as possible in his first two years, with a Democratic Congress, and now he intends to do nothing for the next two years. Like Bill Clinton, he’ll probably blame the LGBT community for his failure. If not, he’ll blame the Republicans — even though his party controlled both houses of Congress for two years and didn’t see fit to address these issues.
The standard defense is that they were working on health care reform. The idea that they can only work on one bill at a time might lead you to believe the Democrats are too stupid to walk and chew gum, and what they actually accomplished in the way of health care reform might tempt you to think they’re too stupid to sit still and chew gum. But the truth is, they didn’t do what needed to be done on LGBT equality because they didn’t want to. They don’t think equality is all that important, and they certainly don’t think there’s anything urgent about it.
So, if you’re a queer person, or a queer-friendly person, who wants to vote for Obama in 2012 because you like the way he scuttled the Copenhagen Climate Council’s attempt to do something about climate change, or because you love the way he’s kept the prison camp open at Guantanamo, escalated the war in Afghanistan, and undermined and attacked your Fourth Amendment rights, more power to you. But if you plan to support Obama in 2012 because you believe he gives a damn about equality, I’m sorry for you. It’s just not true.
Today, President Obama told lesbian and gay servicemembers, who are still required to remain in the closet for some indefinite time:
I know that you will fulfill this responsibility with integrity. And honor. Just as you have every other mission with which you’ve been charged.
It’s too bad — it’s tragic — that we can’t honestly say the same about our President.