I have complete and total sympathy for gay-rights activists who believe that Barack Obama, after swearing up and down throughout the 2008 Presidential election cycle that he would be a friend to the LGBT community, has now thrown that same community under the bus:
President Barack Obama signaled to gay rights activists Wednesday that he’s listening to their priorities by extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. But he didn’t give them even close to everything they want, bringing growing anger against the president to the surface.
Obama aides urged gays and lesbians to have patience with the new White House’s slow-and-steady approach to the politically charged topic. But his critics – and there were many – saw Wednesday’s incremental move to expand gay rights as little more than pandering to a reliably Democratic voting bloc, with the primary aim not of making policy more fair but of cutting short a fundraising boycott.
“When a president tells you he’s going to be different, you believe him,” said John Aravosis, a Washington-based gay activist. “It’s not that he didn’t follow through on his promises, he stabbed us in the back.”
Obama has refused to take any concrete steps toward a repeal of a policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, even though as a candidate he pledged to scrap the Clinton-era rules. He similarly has refused to step in and block the dismissal of gays and lesbians who face courts martial for disclosing their sexual orientation.
“People feel they’re owed an apology,” said Richard Socarides, a New York lawyer who advised President Bill Clinton on gay issues. “People in the gay community feel he over-promised and under-delivered. Now, with over 250 discharges from the military on his watch … the grace period is over.”
Trying to quell that anger, Obama was set on Wednesday to sign small changes in benefits available to same-sex couples. For instance, employees’ domestic partners to be added to a government insurance program that pays for long-term conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. They also would be allowed to take sick leave to care for a sick partner or non-biological child.
“This is a matter of fairness,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Partners, however, would not have access to primary health insurance or to pensions. Such a move would require action from Congress.
“If you really parse it, it seems to say the president directed some federal agencies to give some federal employees some federal benefits at some undisclosed time in the future,” Aravosis said.
Of course, the betrayal of the LGBT community should come as little surprise. As a politician, Barack Obama has solely been out for himself. He is ruthless at cutting out those who interfere with his goals, his timetables, his plans for moving up the political ladder. Such ruthlessness is something that you want in your garden-variety politician. Presidents need to be ruthless at times. But Presidents should not rely on ruthlessness alone.