Friday, June 19, 2009

The Gay Tap Dance

Call me a cynic, but President Obama's decision to allow his appointees and employees to defend the inequality of gay and lesbians' civil rights is inexcusable. Some historic moments don't wait for a convenient time to be changed. As Obama said often himself as a candidate who invoked the tenor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what ever happened to the fierce urgency of now?

This week President Obama allowed employees of the Justice Department to move to dismiss a same-sex marriage case in federal courts. However, the administration's choice to file a motion to dismiss Smelt v. United States is not particularly the problem. Rather, the issue is how the administration chose to make the argument. While the Justice Department spokesperson said the administration was "defending the law on the books in court," others have noted that in their defense the language used also chose to uphold discrimination and to compare gays' lives to immoral incestuous practices

Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote a fairly critical article about the President and his administration's slow start to advocate for equality of all. Finding that "busy calendars and political expediency are no excuse for making one group of Americans wait any longer for equal rights," The Times accused Obama of not following through soon enough of his commitment of equal rights for gays and lesbians.

In fact, what The Times indicated he has allowed instead, was to make the argument in federal court that states have the rights not to recognize same-sex marriage because of the Constitution's full faith and credit clause where decades of case law have been used to emphasize that states need not recognize incestuous marriages.

Clearly this comparison is a huge problem. And I will go out on a limb here and again indicate why Blacks need to be a clear advocate for gay rights. Not because Blacks' struggle is like unto the American Black civil rights movement of the 1960s (although an argument can be made for such a comparison), but largely because Black Americans have long been recognized globally as one of the most discriminated groups in history. One would think that quid pro quo or understanding would come in at some point. The fact that the president is Black and the head of the Justice Department is also Black when such trifling legal comparisons are made between incestuous acts and gay and lesbian marriage is inexcusable.

Indirectly, it suggests Blacks in powerful positions will not use their authority to at least craft respectful arguments even where in the final analysis many gays may disagree. That choice is severely regrettable.

During his campaign President Obama expressed an interest in over-turning "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act and has yet to do so. With climate change, the economy, and healthcare, he claims the moment is now. With a Democratic majority, he has argued in respect to those issues that if nothing significant is accomplished now before the midterm election season, than it won't be completed anytime soon.

Why my president can not apply the same fervor to respect the equal rights of all Americans is baffling. And no - extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees is not in and of itself significant. Unfortunately full coverage was not extended and the maneuver is well over-due.

I find it sadly interesting how staunch conservative Republicans like former Vice President Dick Cheney, former presidential candidate Senator John McCain's daughter, and McCain's former campaign manager Schmidt can openly explain their support for equal rights for the LGBT community, yet President Obama and his administration continue to tap dance around the issue on many fronts - from 'don't ask don't tell' ambivalence to a discriminatory support only for civil unions.

Much more aggressive action is needed from President Obama and his team and if this is a country that truly stands for equal rights, every day the president wakes up and does nothing is an egregious act against the founding fathers and his own ancestors.

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