As I stood brushing my teeth this morning, listening to National Public Radio like a good little liberal homosexual, I was reminded that Republicans (cue the “Imperial March” from Star Wars) have taken control of the US House, and gained more control in the Senate. I almost gagged on my toothbrush. I started foaming at the mouth. Actually, it was just toothpaste, but you get the point.
Well, I thought, at least we’ve had a Democratic President for the past two years, and a Democratic-controlled Congress for the past four. That’s a whole two years with the gayest President and the gayest Congress in the history of the United States—two years finally to begin fulfilling their campaign promises to enact equality legislation, and finally to grant GLBT Americans their long-overdue civil rights.
So, what exactly did the unambiguously-gay-friendly duo accomplish over the past two years? I started compiling a mental list of their major accomplishments.
Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—yes, the one signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton? Nope. Well, while Congress may not have taken it up, at least Democratic President Barack Obama supported its repeal, right? Actually, a federal court ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional. But the Obama Administration appealed the decision. Yeah, but it said that has to do with some sort of complicated constitutional-separation-of-powers mumbo jumbo. OK, fine. Next.
How about at last enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)? Nope. Even after Congress (including gayer-than-gay Congressman Barney Frank) threw transgender people over the side of the boat to make the legislation more “appealing” to the “mainstream,” it still couldn’t get a law passed—in the 21st Century!—to prevent people from being fired from their job for just being themselves.
I started to sweat. Congress is a complicated beast, and politicians always paint the rosiest of pictures during the campaign, but surely these guys followed through on at least one of their major promises to the GLBT community.
What about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)? Well, yes…sort of. Yes! Finally! Wait, what do I mean “sort of”? Congress did pass and the President did sign legislation, but it was a compromise that didn’t repeal DADT outright, but rather allowed the President and the Pentagon to proceed on their own timetable. And once the ban officially is repealed, so gay and lesbian soldiers can serve openly, they won’t be able to do so equally.
God, I’m a buzzkill. What do I mean?
Because of the federal DOMA, legally-married same-sex spouses of service members will not receive the same benefits as heterosexual spouses. Gay troops with families will not get the same housing, food, and travel allowances or medical care that heterosexual spouses and families do.
So, basically, a ban signed into law by a Democratic President almost 20 years ago barely was quasirepealed in the last few minutes of a lame-duck legislative session after the loudest supporters of our community had complete control of Congress for the past four years and the Presidency for the past two.
How, you ask, were they able to pull off this last-minute “Hail, Mary Pass”? That happened when and only when eight Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill, ensuring a filibuster-proof majority.
To top it off, this entire crazy legislative kabuki dance need never have happened in the first place.
Wait…what? You heard me.
On September 9, 2010, a federal judge ruled that DADT was unconstitutional. Coincidentally, none other than the Log Cabin Republicans brought the case to court. Three days later, she ordered a worldwide injunction, ending the ban. Military recruiters were told to accept gay applicants. For eight days, the Pentagon didn’t enforce DADT. The world didn’t explode in a big gay mushroom cloud. Gay sex didn’t break out in combat units—at least no more than usual.
What happened? Obama’s Justice Department appealed the decision. Not only that, it asked for and got a stay, meaning the ban immediately was put back in place. Didn’t the department have to appeal? No. Absolutely not.
The President tried to argue that a legislative resolution was somehow more meaningful, more lasting.
In my opinion, Obama wanted it that way so he and Congressional Democrats could go back to the GLBT community to laud this accomplishment, garnering votes and financial support for 2012.
Playing politics with civil rights—not quite the change we were told to believe in.
I looked in the mirror again. This time, I was foaming at the mouth—and it wasn’t the toothpaste.
If we’ve learned anything from the past two years, it’s that we finally must stop handing over our time, effort, and financial resources so freely to politicians and parties saying one thing, yet doing another or nothing at all. We also must cease enabling organizations in our own community that continue to spend millions of our dollars, yet fail to achieve any substantive reform.
The civil rights movement of the last century was not successful because it had cute bumper stickers and snazzy black-tie dinners with celebrity keynote speakers—or gift shops.