Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DOMA deux

The New York Times published an excellent editorial, “A Bad Call on Gay Rights”, making many of the same points on the DOMA brief that I did on Monday:
If the administration does feel compelled to defend the act, it should do so in a less hurtful way. It could have crafted its legal arguments in general terms, as a simple description of where it believes the law now stands. There was no need to resort to specious arguments and inflammatory language to impugn same-sex marriage as an institution.
Then they continue in a way I completely agree with:
The best approach of all would have been to make clear, even as it defends the law in court, that it is fighting for gay rights. It should work to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that bans gay men and lesbians in the military from being open about their sexuality. It should push hard for a federal law banning employment discrimination. It should also work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act in Congress.
The lack of action on any of these things has led some GLBT activists to claim that they’re being “thrown under the bus”. Others counter that President Obama has a lot on his plate, as indeed he does. But the editorial concludes with a great point:
The administration has had its hands full with the financial crisis, health care, Guantánamo Bay and other pressing matters. In times like these, issues like repealing the marriage act can seem like a distraction — or a political liability. But busy calendars and political expediency are no excuse for making one group of Americans wait any longer for equal rights.
I couldn't agree more, and I think this is the core of the centrist position: The administration must add its promises to GLBT Americans as part of its priorities, not leave it on the “someday, hopefully” list. However, fulfilling these promises immediately isn’t the demand—there are many more pressing problems to be dealt with. The administration must simply start making an effort.

One aspect that’s troubled me about this mess is that some GLBT folks are basically making an excuse for it because the brief was written by “a Bush/Cheney holdover who’s also a Mormon”. This defence is offensive because, first, it assumes someone being a Mormon automatically explains the anti-gay rhetoric of the brief. Without any evidence to support that, it’s guilt by association because of the Mormons’ well-known—and well-funded—opposition to any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

But even if that was proven to be the core of the issue, so what? These briefs aren’t written by one person, labouring alone, then filing it single-handedly. Instead, there’s a whole team that has input and reviews it before, ultimately, it’s approved to be filed. That means that there were plenty of opportunities to object, but no one did (allegedly, staffers did soften the language a little and, if true, one can only imagine how horrible the original must’ve been).

So, blaming one staffer lets the others off the hook: They’re just as responsible. However, now that this has become such a big issue for us, it’s unlikely that the Department of Justice will make the same sort of mistake again, so that’s one good thing that will likely come out of this.

President Obama did not “betray” us, but one could say that his Department of Justice betrayed him by filing a brief that’s so clearly counter to administration policies and that alienates part of the president’s coalition. And that alienation is why President Obama must do better.

Update: The AP is reporting that on Wednesday the President will announce plans to "extend health care and other benefits to the gay and lesbian partners of federal employees". It's a start.

Update 2 (18/06/09): Turns out to be a teeny-tiny step: "Domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children. For foreign service employees… the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations."

No routine healthcare or survivor benefits (like pensions). The reason is—ironically—DOMA: The very law that the administration is defending prevents them from granting full rights and recognition to same-sex couples that it does to opposite-sex married couples. This is also a memorandum, not an executive order, which carries the weight of law. A presidential memorandum expires at the end of a president's term, whereas an executive order has to be specifically cancelled by a new president. (NB: The administration disputes that distinction; I defer unless I hear a reliable dissenting interpretation).

If you use the metaphor of a long march to equality, this is the equivalent of deciding to lift the foot for a step—progress of a sort, but very slight.


Roger Owen Green said...

I saw on ABC News that the State Dept recently decided that couples in same-sex marriages who changed their names as a result will now be accepted (for passports, etc.), something they previously said they could not do because of DOMA. I think they're trying to attack it on the edges.

And now foer something completely stupid from the Pray In Jesus Name Project:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), added the "Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act," (which is better known to conservatives as the "Pedophile Protection Act,") to his short-term legislative list Monday, by saying he was "committed" to a Senate vote on hate crimes legislation before the August recess. The pro-homosexual newspaper Washington Blade reported the vote could happen as early as this week, but staffers at Senator Kennedy's office denied that claim, giving us a few more days to act.

The pro-homosexual, anti-faith bill, sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and pushed hard by the Obama Administration, was until recently labeled S. 909 "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act." But it faced such strong resistance by conservatives (including threat of filibuster or faith-protecting amendments by pro-faith Senator Jim DeMint, R-SC), so instead Democrats have announced they will soon hide the bill as an amendment to another "must-move" bill, denying committee hearings, and completely side-stepping the Republicans right to debate and amend.


The forthcoming "poison pill" amendment will mirror a House bill H.R. 1913, already passed 249-175 along strict party lines, which makes "sexual orientation," "gender," and "gender identity" into federally-protected classes under the law, and codifies federal protection of up to 547 types of sexually deviant behaviors, including:

* Incest - sex with one's offspring (a crime, of course)
* Necrophilia - sexual relations with a corpse, also a crime
* Pedophilia - sex with an underage child, another crime
* Zoophilia - a crime in numerous states
* Voyeurism - a criminal offense in most states
* Fronteurism - a man rubbing against an unknown woman's buttocks
* Coprophilia - sexual arousal from feces
* Urophilia - sexual arousal from urine

Attempts by House Republicans to add amendments stating "pedophilia is not protected as a sexual orientation" were specifically blocked and defeated by House Democrats. Lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) expressed opposition to excluding pedophiles from the bill, and Democrats voted with her to strike any child-protection amendment. She claimed that pedophiles would not be defined within "sexual orientation," but wouldn't put that in writing, and refused to define that phrase "sexual orientation," which according to the American Psychiatric Association includes all 547 sexual deviances listed in their DSM-III manual of clinical psychoses, including pedophilia, so now thanks to most Democrats, child molesters will be protected by federal law.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

That State Department change came as the result of a lawsuit, which is where much real change actually born.

I've heard about the wingnuts' crusade against hate crimes legislation, and this utter nonsense is just one of their tactics. They know damn well, of course, that they're spreading an absolute, total lie, not that they care about that—I don't think they know how to NOT lie. However, they're not having much success spreading this bile in the mainstream media which can see right through them on this one. I just hope they continue to see through them on other issues, too.