"Barack Obama has been President for a little over two years and one months and the amount he has gotten done in that period of time on Gay rights and indeed in a whole range of issue is breathtaking. It has been a monumental series of achievements including for LBGTQ Rights in this country." ~Tobias Wolff, Law Professor at Univ. PA and Obama Campaign Legal AdvisorIf you have not heard what Tobias had to say, check this video out. If there is anyone that is most credible to speak about the President's inner workings and intent to advance LGBTQ causes, there is no one better to ask than Tobias Wolff. I have transcribed the interview with Rachel right below the video and the rest below the fold. Starting at 02:05 mark
Rachel: What does this decision by the Justice Department mean practically in terms of Gay rights? I know the law does not change right now but what do you expect this is going to mean? Tobias: Well, the Justice Department and the President has done two things. The first as you described in your intro is about the constitutional challenges to the DOMA itself and they have said that they are no longer going to defend the constitutionality of this discriminatory statue. That by itself is a big deal. But, they have done something else which is arguably even more important. The President and the Attorney General have concluded that it's a general matter anti-gay discrimination is preemptively unconstitutional that when States or the Government pass laws or adopt policies that disadvantages gay, lesbian and bi-sexual Americans that that action requires heightened or careful constitutional scrutiny because it is presumptively an unconstitutional form of discrimination. It is the first time the US Government has ever placed its credibility and its power behind that position. And, I think it is going to have an impact not just on the DOMA litigation but the civil rights litigation all around the country.
Rachel: What does it mean that the Justice Department won't defend this law anymore but it is clear even by the fact that this is announced by the letter to Speaker Boehner, that it is clear that Congress has the opportunity to defend the law if it wants to and what does that mean? Tobias: Well, so the United States has made it clear that they are going to stay in this case as a party to the lawsuit and there are provisions in the law already for Congress, the leadership in the House for example, if they think it is a good idea to get involved in the lawsuit perhaps to intervene as parties in the lawsuit and to mount their own defense to the lawsuit. The courts are the ones that are going to have to make a final determination about the constitutionality of the stature and it is actually probably helpful to the courts to have arguments being made even if they are bad arguments so that the courts can consider them carefully and reject them. But, the practical impact of the US Government placing its prestige behind the proposition that gay people can not be made second class citizens under our constitution, it is difficult to overstate...I think it is really going to change the tenure and perhaps the outcome of these pending lawsuits. Rachel: Professor Wolff, there has been a number of Administrative policy changes on Gay Rights issues during the Obama Administration. Of course, the huge issue of repealing DADT, now this is happened and as somebody who really has made this his professional lives work and somebody who worked on Mr. Obama's campaign on this issues, do you feel satisfied with what he has done? Do you feel satisfied with the pace at which he is tackling these issues? Do you think he is doing all he can do? Tobias: Well, I got to tell you I think there are two things to be said. The first is Barack Obama has been President for a little over two years and one months and the amount he has gotten done in that period of time on Gay rights and indeed in a whole range of issue is Breathtaking. It has been a monumental series of achievements including for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender rights in this country. The second things to say is that there is more work to do. Gay and Transgender people don't have employment protections in the work place under Federal Law, same sex couples are still treated unequally under Federal Immigration laws. There is more work to do and I think the President realizes that there is more work to do but if you ask me am I am happy about the progress we have made so far? I am pretty darn happy. Rachel: [her closing comment saying thank you to Mr. Wolff].I am sure we all remember when so many doubted that the President will not get DADT repealed legislatively. This was what Rachel Maddow had said then when the President pulled the 65 -31 victory for those in uniform serving their country but been affected by DADT for so many years.
Commentator: Rachel, what's your reaction now to six Republicans voting for the repeal of Don't Ask, Dont Tell. Rachel Maddow: You know, a lot of people said that once it was clear that it was going to pass that it would open the door to some unexpected "yes" votes. And I always am, I always tend to be a little cynical about these things so I'm not sure that I believed it. But it's true. To see Richard Burr, in particular, move on this, to see John Ensign move on this -- John Ensign indicated that he might move on this -- it just shows you that the politics of this are unpredictable and that people who will try to denounce this as "a traditional right-left issue" the way that John McCain I think in particular has tried to demagogue it, it's just, they're just wrong. They're talking about something that might have been true 20 years ago and isn't true now. I think that politically, though, the thing to not lose touch of, to not lose touch with here, this is the President's victory. The President took a lot of criticism, a lot of abuse, a lot of skepticism from his otherwise most loyal supporters on this. But this is an issue on which the President did not waver. He continually insisted that this was possible. That it would get done. It, in fact, was not possible for the President to do this through Executive action. This is something that had to happen legislatively if it was really going to happen in a definitive way. The President did not waver. He DID work on the Senate to get this to happen. He insisted that this was possible against a lot of people, including me, saying it was not possible. This is a difficult promise kept. It's not just a promise that was kept. It was one that was hard to keep, that cost a lot of political capital and a lot of work and this is the President's victory today and his base will reward him for it. Courtesy of Eclectablog's post at eclectablog.com.Other notable achievements of President Obama on LBGTQ issues:
1) Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees
2) Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
3) Instructed HHS to require any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds (virtually all hospitals) to allow LGBT visitation rights.
4) Banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the Federal government (the nation's largest employer)
5) Signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act
6) Extended the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover Gay employees taking unpaid leave to care for their children of same-sex partners
7) Lifted the HIV Entry Ban.
8) Implemented HUD Policies that Would Ban Discrimination Based On Gender Identity
9) Appointed the first ever transgender DNC member
10) Named open transgender appointees (the first President ever to do so)
11) Eliminated the discriminatory Census Bureau policy that kept LGBT relationships from being counted 12) Extended domestic violence protections to LGBT victims
Most understand that these are just some of the things the President has implemented to advancing equality for the LGBTQ community. He has shown bold leadership and indeed done more than any politician in the history of American politics for the LGBTQ community. As Tobias Wolff said, "there is more work to do" and the President realizes that. While the President realizes progress has been made, the nature of our politicking also has many elements that it must take many factors including strategy about how to go about making more progress. Before we went to work to get DADT repeal, we had 78% public support. In the article at the Fix blog, Chris Cillizza, notes:
According to the most recent numbers from Pew, 43 percent of Americans support gay marriage, and 47 percent oppose it. Those numbers, from late last year, are the best numbers in 15 years for gay marriage. But when you delve a little deeper, you find that only 16 percent of people "strongly favor" gay marriage, while 26 percent "strongly oppose" it. Those strongly opposed include 21 percent of independents and even 20 percent of Democrats -- voters that Obama needs to be able to woo. Obama, who suggested repeatedly in recent months that he is evolving on the issue of gay marriage, seems to want to help the gay rights community. Another recent example, of course, is his successful recent effort to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military. Republicans, including potential 2012 presidential candidates, haven't exactly been jumping at the chance to make gay marriage an issue, but if Obama sticks his neck out too much, he risks the wrath of the right. And if the health care battle shows anything, it's that such things are to be avoided.My take on this is that with only 43 percent of Americans supporting gay marriage, we have a long way to go in educating and changing the hearts and minds of Americans. With a polling number like that and with little backbone Congress has to repealing DOMA, the President strategy is to take this issue from a constitutional tangent and let the courts decide on it while declaring DOMA discriminatory. I think it is a smart move politically while it shows that the President is thinking about dismantling this law methodically and carefully. A guest Columnist at NJ.com notes:
Some critics have claimed that the Obama administration, in changing its position on DOMA, chose politics over law. But that criticism ignores the fact that it is entirely reasonable to conclude, under well-settled U.S. Supreme Court cases, that laws classifying individuals according to their sexual orientation are constitutionally suspect. The Supreme Court has looked to factors such as whether the group impacted by the laws has suffered a history of discrimination. It seems clear that lesbians and gay men have been the victims of extensive discrimination through the decades. //snip If the administration had chosen legal positions in order to satisfy its liberal political base, it would not have spent its first two years in office defending the constitutionality of both DOMA and “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the courts. All indications are that the administration has been methodical and careful in its approach to the legal issues raised by the ongoing gay rights lawsuits.However, it is disappointing to read some awful comments of disrespect from a few disgruntled individuals who are quite blinded by their personal failure to recognize the achievements made to date. Most often, criticizing the President on LGBTQ issues has been very personal, counter productive and divisive in a community where there seems to be a non stop resentful attitude about the President and whatever he tries to do. We are all mature to understand that we will not agree in all things but understand what is a disrespectful criticism. Not so long ago, I was asked what is "respectful criticism" and commenter malharden eloquently said this:
Here is an example of "respectful criticism"... 'I am aware that POTUS has done "X" about issue "Y", but I don't think that's enough and think he should do more.' I would submit that everybody at this website has used the above formulation (or an approximation thereof) at some point and one must respect that. If people say he needs to do more on LGBT issues, I respect that. More on healthcare? I respect that. More on issues affecting the poor, not only do I respect that but I am right there echoing you. When somebody goes with (approximately):I will say A-M-E-N to that and hope folks take a note. The bottom line is when I hear a small number of divisive individuals say, "Barrack Obama is no friend to the Gay community", it confirms to me that "[President] Obama Is Suffering Because of His Achievements, Not Despite Them". If you agree with me, just node your head. *******************************************************************
POTUS is abandoning poor people, but John Kerry who is really on the side of the poor had this to say:or
Heritage foundation agrees with Obama's approach.Those aren't respectful criticism, they're 3rd grade-level FUD and provocation. Folks who lead with denying any incremental advancement on an issue, despite evidence to the contrary, immediately throw any pretense of "respectful" out the window.
Tears of Joy - Tobias Wolff, Law Professor at Univ. PA and Obama Campaign Legal Advisor at the signing ceremony of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. December 22, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)