Monday, June 29, 2009

Obama and gay rights: Stonewall edition

Frank Rich wrote about gay rights and Obama yesterday, the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. He confessed that he didn't hear anything about Stonewall when it happened, despite his personal interest in civil rights. I don't blame him; I don't think I heard about Stonewall at the very least until I was in college. Rich is frustrated with Obama's lack of action on gay rights, as many liberals are. He comes up with a couple of explanations, and favors this one:

But the most prevalent theory is that Obama, surrounded by Clinton White House alumni with painful memories, doesn’t want to risk gay issues upending his presidency, as they did his predecessor’s in 1993.
Undoubtedly. But I cannot figure out why Rich doesn't go just a little deeper, and look into the Congressional politics. It's really quite simple. There are a number of Democratic senators and representatives, primarily from the South, who absolutely do not want to vote on any gay issues this year. Claire McCaskill from Missouri, Kay Hagan from North Carolina, and Mark Warner from Virginia are probably in this group. I haven't checked out their positions on gay rights, but I would be very surprised if they are pushing for the repeal of either DOMA or DADT. For Obama to push for the repeal of DOMA right now would be a gift to certain Republicans, to say nothing of Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck. For some of those senators and congresspeople, voting for an expasion of gay rights, particularly gay marriage, might cost them enough votes to lose them an election. That's a very high price.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Obama is being very careful on the repeal of DOMA and DADT because he doesn't want to lose. If he pushes for a repeal of either, and it fails, there will not be another opportunity for at least five years.

Andrew Sullivan is, of course, passionate about this, but I also think he's a little blinded by his own passion. A couple of weeks ago, more frustrated than usual, he wrote

Of course these things can be done. If anyone high up in the Obama administration or the Pelosi-Reid Congress gave a damn, much would have been done.
No, they can't. There is still much work to be done, and there are still many people who are adamantly opposed to gay marriage. There has been amazing progress on gay rights just this year, but let's not forget that Prop. 8 passed in California last year. And it didn't just pass in California: it passed in Los Angeles County, one of the most liberal counties in the country.

Sullivan has a list of things that he thinks supporters of gay rights should do to pressure Obama and the Democrats. I think a much more fruitful approach would be to compile a list of minor things that Obama can do to support gay rights - a checklist, if you will, and then demand action on each of those. Many of them will not require Congressional action. Obama is already working through some of those, and they require a lot of work in the bureaucracy. There are two rationales for this approach. First, it gets a lot of things done. Second, it will lay the ground work for the more dramatic action of repealing DOMA and DADT by showing that gay rights can be expanded, and the politicians supporting such expansion can survive.

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