June 16, 2009


I actually was planning to write about Obama and queer issues a few weeks ago, when Rachel Maddow was inviting Daniel Choi - gay soldier fluent in Arabic - on her show. Choi came out on the air, and is now getting kicked out of the Army. Obama could do something about this, by ordering the military to stop issuing determinations that soldiers are gay or invoking his powers while stop-loss is in use, but he won't. And hasn't. He won't even say anything about it himself. Dan Savage has been calling this "the fierce urgency of whenever."

Now something else has happened: one of the many DOMA challenge cases currently working their way through federal court has gotten to the point where the Justice Department files a brief. DOJ normally supports federal law - it's their job - but in unusual cases may decide not to support the law when an important policy issue is at stake. I'm not a lawyer, and have a slightly hazy grasp on these details, but this much is vouched for by other people who know this better than I do. If DOJ does choose to defend the law even though the administration opposes it on policy grounds, they can tailor the defense so it is as narrow as possible, and thus not imperil future efforts to exercise those rights. In this case, DOJ decided to file the brief; they also assigned the task of writing it to a Mormon Bush hold-over.

Bet you can guess how that worked out. It's an extremely broad defense of DOMA - "scattershot" has been mentioned; "kitchen sink" as well - which compares same-sex marriage to incest and child rape, claims that same-sex marriage is too expensive given scarce government resources, and anyway, gay people can just have straight marriages. Seriously. I'm not joking. It's a fucking disaster, and there is no way in a million years that any fierce advocate of gay rights would write something like that.

Like Andrew Sullivan, I doubt that Obama personally wants to screw over gay people. But it's not like no one knew there were DOMA suits being filed, or like no one had ever heard him mention that he's opposed to DOMA. I suspect that Obama supports gay marriage, himself. He said he did in the 90s, when he was running for something smaller and more local. He can't come out in favor of it right now, because it's too politically expensive, and honestly, that's fine with me.

What's not fine is this: Obama ran partly on a claim that he got it, and that queer people would not be second-class citizens in his administration. He hasn't delivered. Not at all. He hasn't mentioned the Iowa court decision except in a joke, he hasn't done thing one about don't ask don't tell, and he hasn't bothered to get someone to coordinate his administration's response to a major set of civil rights litigation. That's bullshit. I know the man is busy: I don't expect him to personally sit around writing the DOMA brief for the DOJ. But nothing? Nothing at all? And then this bullshit? If I were running HRC and this were an election year, I'd be looking for another candidate. Not saying I wouldn't vote for him myself, just that if you're a single issue gay rights group, this isn't your man. (And they have pulled out of the LGBT DNC fundraiser. As well they should.)

I think this amounts to cowardice. Obama's not willing to stake even a tiny amount of prestige - even the tiny amount required to get rid of don't ask don't tell, which a majority of conservatives want to get rid of - on queers. Ta-Nehisi Coates points to Jelani's comparison of Obama and JFK, one fo the few that makes neither of them look good. And I can't tell you how disappointed and sad I am to agree.


Ace said...

I thought you might want to read this on the subject (if you haven't already): http://lawdork.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/chairman-frank-and-aravosiss-misstatements/#more-1775

But even with that, I agree that it's frustrating and bullshit (DADT especially). One of the few areas where I'm actually mad at Obama.

North said...

Yeah, Aravosis has apparently been absurdly misleading. Too bad, because it looks to me like the brief still demonstrates that the Obama administration doesn't have a coordinated response to try to prevent these bad cases from making bad law.

I'm still mad, though. Because even if filing this brief wasn't a strike against queer people, it is still true that Obama has displayed zero leadership on queer issues. So. Time to get organized.