Please urge your elected representatives to cosponsor and support the inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In 1996, when Barack Obama was running for the Illinois Senate, he was asked in a survey by Outlines, a gay community newspaper in Chicago, if he supported same-sex marriage. Unlike most candidates, who merely indicated yes or no, Obama took the unusual step of typing in his response, to which he affixed his signature. Back then not a single state permitted same-sex marriage, and sodomy was a crime. Nonetheless, Obama took a position on the progressive edge of the Democratic Party, and he did so with unmistakable clarity: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
Since then, as Obama traced his dazzling arc to the presidency, his stance on gay rights has become murkier, wordier, less courageous, more Clintonian. During his 2004 US Senate bid, he stated that he supports domestic partnerships and civil unions instead of same-sex marriage. When speaking to gay audiences, he explained his new position as “primarily just…a strategic issue.” But on bigger stages he cited his Christian faith as grounds for his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, a view he reiterated during the 2008 presidential election even while he also asserted, inconsistently, that religion should not dictate a state’s approach to gay rights.
As president, Obama has made similar equivocations on gay rights. As a senator and as a candidate, he won the vocal support of the vast majority of gays and lesbians by calling for the repeal of both the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the miserable failure that is “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and by supporting full federal partnership rights (but not same-sex marriage) and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire someone because of his or her sexual orientation. But he has so far spent no political capital to turn these promises into reality. Quite to the contrary, Obama’s slide hit what one hopes will be a nadir on June 12 when his administration filed a brief defending the legality of DOMA by comparing same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia.
It is impossible to accept that a president who owes so much to movements for civil rights and social justice, never mind the Obama of 1996, believes in such right-wing bigotry; the only plausible explanation can be one of political calculation. The memory of Bill Clinton’s early failure to integrate the military, as well as the aftermath of the 2004 election, when same-sex marriage was blamed for John Kerry’s loss, looms large in the minds of top Democratic strategists. Guided by veterans of the Clinton-era culture wars like chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, the prevailing wisdom in the White House seems to be that a forward push on gay rights can only endanger what the Democratic Party hopes will be a lasting majority and would squander precious political capital better used on issues like healthcare and economic reform.