Gay Activists Split on Obama | The Nation


Gay Activists Split on Obama

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Next on the agenda is the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Despite President Obama's promise to end the policy, he and Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, have punted on the question of who should lead on this issue. To Mixner, this is just a game of "political football." "President Obama is waiting for Congress to get a bill to his desk; Reid is saying show us leadership," he said. "I say a pox on both of their houses."

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Eric Naing
Eric Naing is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in newspapers such as the...

Mixner believes Obama has the power to end the policy right now but chooses not to do so. All the president would have to do is immediately cut off funding for all prosecution of gays and lesbians in the military and issue a stop loss order--essentially forcing Congress to act.

A bill to repeal DADT has been introduced in the House by Iraq War veteran and Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Murphy; and The Advocate has recently reported that the White House is in discussions with Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, a longtime foe of DADT, about ending the policy.

But while this process lurches forward, soldiers like Lt. Dan Choi are still being forced out of the armed services. Then there are cases like Eric (who asked to be identified by his first name only), a 23-year-old Navy linguist who showed up in uniform at a DADT protest on October 10 even though he lives in constant fear of losing his job. "People are being oppressed for their lifestyle," he said. "Being in the military is not a 9-to-5 job. You have to do it all the time."

The final demand from LGBT activists is the repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. Over 1,000 rights are guaranteed to legally married couples. Without these rights, seemingly routine actions like a hospital visit become a nightmare for LGBT families. This is why Katie Edwards of Virginia marched to the Capitol on October 11 with her partner, Julie, and their 2-month-old son, Lincoln. "Our son is who's hurt by all this," said Katie. "I need to be able to take care of him if he gets sick, but I'm not the biological mother so I don't have the same rights to him as Julie does."

In his speech, President Obama called on Congress to repeal DOMA. Congress, however, hasn't gotten very far. Representative Jerry Nadler of New York has introduced legislation in the House creating the Respect for Marriage Act of 2009, but many lawmakers, including Frank, say the time isn't right.

Joe Lyman, a volunteer with the LGBT activist group Join the Impact, led a panel discussion on DOMA as part of the activist-organizing activities on October 10 and was equally dim on the short-term prospects of Respect for Marriage legislation. "I don't think it will happen in the near future," Lyman said. "Possibly in the Obama administration, but on this issue in particular you're more likely to see more victories on the state level."

But even these state-level victories can be fleeting as the upcoming votes in Washington and Maine, as well as the success of Proposition 8 in California, show.

This is why Cleve Jones, longtime LGBT rights activist and lead organizer of the march, has criticized the state-by-state strategy as "incomplete and impermanent." "True equality can only come from the federal government," he said. Jones's more federally focused strategy has been picked up by a younger generation of LGBT activists such as 25-year-old Wayne Ting, who is on the executive board of Equality Across America, the group behind the march.

"People here are done with compromise," said Ting. "There's no halfway on equality. Either you're a politician who believes in full equality in all fifty states or do not. That's it."

With Congressional midterm elections looming, Jones believes the LGBT movement can't afford to wait anymore. "A door opened with the election of Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in both houses, the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, the film Milk, Proposition 8--all of these things combined to open a door," Jones said. "That door is swinging shut already."

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