Time for Federal Action


June 18, 2009
By Evan Wolfson
Executive Director of Freedom to Marry and author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People's Right to Marry

On Wednesday, President Obama took a small step in the right direction directing his administration to provide some protections to same-sex partners of federal employees. Any measure that provides some support and respect to more families in America is obviously a good thing, but not a solution to the root cause of many of the hardships and the injustice gay Americans experience – the denial of the freedom to marry. Selected partner protections for federal workers, however good, fall far short of the vision of an inclusive and equal America that gay people continue to believe President Obama shares, despite the Administration's months of inaction and recent bad actions such as the Department of Justice's offensive brief filed in support of the federal anti-marriage law.

President Obama laid out this shared vision in a February 2008 open letter to the gay community:
“I’m running for President to build an America that lives up to our founding promise of equality for all – a promise that extends to our gay brothers and sisters…I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does.”

The rising frustration and disappointment that advocates of equality, gay and non-gay, have begun expressing is a warning signal that the Administration and Congress need to get the team and work back on track. The President's Oval Office statement yesterday calling again for repealing of the discriminatory so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ or DOMA was a good marker by which to measure the needed progress; now the White House and Congressional leaders must move a repeal bill forward, working in partnership with gay organizations and the many others who support equal rights in America.

Shortly after President Obama's election, I published an "Open Letter" congratulating him and all of us who worked to secure the vote for the vision we share. I wrote, "Discrimination based on sexual orientation, particularly government denial of fundamental rights such as the freedom to marry, is not a gay problem. It is an American problem…We are ready for your leadership, and ready to do our part.” I urged the President to follow the example of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and provide the moral leadership and make the "bully pulpit" case to the American people that would help frame, spur, and accompany specific actions, some of which require legislation and some of which his administration can and should take now "at the stroke of a pen."

In February, as the Administration's inaction began to raise concerns, I wrote a piece offering lessons from Lincoln, President Obama's role-model:
"Lincoln's combination of tactical maneuvering and incremental action with consistent articulation of a clear moral standard over time helped elevate public understanding and commitment to what is right.... As Lincoln's words and actions skillfully paved the way for America's "new birth of freedom," he returned again and again to the Declaration of Independence's promise that "all should have an equal chance." Lincoln didn't expect that promise to waft in by itself, or solely on the work of others. He led."

It's time now for all of us, gay organizations, advocates of equality, the President, his Administration, and Congress to get back on track and start delivering.

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Editorial: Benefits for Same-Sex Partners

The New York Times
June 17, 2009
President Obama’s decision to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees is a victory for fairness in the workplace. It is a serious omission, however, that his new policy does not include health and retirement benefits, which heterosexual married employees receive. Since benefits are an important part of employment compensation, gay people are effectively being paid less than their heterosexual peers for doing the same work. The strong symbolism of the president’s move cannot be denied. Still, it is impossible to ignore how much of the glass is not full. The Defense of Marriage Act — which prohibits the federal government from treating same-sex relationships as marriages, and allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states — needs to be repealed. [Link]

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The Obama Administration Defends the Defense of Marriage Act

FindLaw
June 17, 2009
During the Presidential election campaign, Barack Obama announced his intention to sign legislation repealing DOMA. Yet in Smelt, his Justice Department vigorously defended DOMA last week, prompting LGBT rights groups to denounce the seeming change of heart. Did the government's brief in Smelt betray the President's campaign promise? The President arguably has a duty to defend the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes. Still, the executive branch's defense of a federal statute invariably has a substantial policy element to it. The problem was not so much that the government defended DOMA, as it was the way in which the government did so. Although the government's Smelt brief does not flatly violate candidate Obama's promise to seek DOMA's repeal, the LGBT community is right to view it as a betrayal of the spirit of that promise. [Link]

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Video: Obama Extends Benefits for Same-Sex Partners

The Associated Press
June 17, 2009

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Eye Opener: Same-Sex Partners Get Benefits

The Washington Post
June 17, 2009
Happy Wednesday! President Obama will sign a memo today that extends some federal benefits to domestic partners of federal workers, including same-sex partners. The president will stop short, however, of pledging full health insurance coverage to those partners. In a conference call with reporters, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said "This is a first step, not a final step. This is an attempt to get our federal house in order, and that is very important to do. It’s an example of practicing before preaching, and I believe the president is taking bold action to do just that, to get the federal house in order." [Link]

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Talks on Same-Sex Benefits Began Months Ago

The Washington Post
June 17, 2009
The seeds for a presidential memorandum President Obama plans to sign today that would extend federal employee benefits for same-sex couples were planted last December during a meeting with advocates and the Obama transition team. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, representatives of several groups met with Valerie Jarrett, now one of the president's top White House advisers, and John Podesta, who along with Jarrett was a co-chair of the transition team, and discussed a range of issues important to gay and lesbian Americans. "It was a very serious meeting, talking about appointments, talking about positions, talking about legislation," recalled Leonard Hirsch, the president of Federal Globe, an organization representing gay and lesbian federal workers. That meeting led to today's planned announcement about benefits. [Link]

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Barney Frank rips prez’s ‘big mistake’

Boston Herald
June 17, 2009
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, one of the nation’s leading gay rights champions, blasted President Obama yesterday over a controversial anti-marriage equality court filing and is calling on the commander in chief to explain himself. “I think the administration made a big mistake. The wording they used was inappropriate,” Frank (D-Newton) said of a brief filed by Obama’s Department of Justice that supported the Defense of Marriage Act. “I’ve been in touch with the White House and I’m hoping the president will make clear these were not his views,” Frank said. [Link]

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Representative Tammy Baldwin Comments on DOJ DOMA Brief

Towleroad
June 16, 2009
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) released a statement today with regard to the brief. Said Baldwin, as part of longer remarks at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in observation and celebration of LGBT Pride Month:
Last week the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. I was profoundly disappointed by this action, particularly coming from this administration. I still take President Obama at his word that he is committed to the repeal of DOMA. I also recognize that he cannot do it alone. Congress has the responsibility on its shoulders to pass legislation that would give the opportunity to the President to keep his word and ensure that all married people, including those in same-sex marriages, enjoy the same rights under federal law.
[Link]

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The Gay Guide to Obama’s Remarks Today

Huffington Post
June 17, 2009

Lane Hudson highlights President Obama's promise to repeal the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' during his campaign and poses possible positive steps President Obama could make with his signing of a memorandum regarding domestic partner benefits for federal employees and expected remarks later today. (Link)

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Quigley Wants Same-Sex Couples Counted In Census

CBS 2 Chicago
June 16, 2009
Newly-elected U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is calling on President Barack Obama to recognize same-sex married couples in the 2010 census. Quigley sent Obama a letter, reiterating a similar call last month. If same-sex married couples are not counted, the integrity of the census may be threatened, Quigley said. "My colleagues and I do not believe that simply reporting data about same-sex married couples in the 2010 Census is a recognition of same-sex marriage," Quigley wrote. "However, the omission, or "scrubbing" of the data from these couples will misidentify and misrepresent many people who are legally married in a growing number of states across our country." [Link]

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