NY Times: On gay rights and policies, Obama lets senior staff take lead


“President Obama has long relied on his oratorical gifts to ease him through tricky political situations. But on the emotionally charged issue of gay rights, Mr. Obama has been content recently to let his lieutenants do the talking. And they have said some striking things,” reported Mark Landler, Senior White House Correspondent for The New York Times, on Friday.

This follows an established pattern for the Obama administration dealing with a wide variety of issues, most notably the repeal of “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” — which was led by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen — as well as the findings by Attorney General Eric Holder, that one section of the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) was unconstitutional and therefore should not be enforced by the Justice Department in several pending federal appellate court cases.

LGBTQ activists and senior staff contend that the President is committed for enactment of equality legislation, as evidenced by several executive orders that the administration has issued over the past three years — most recently the memorandum issued earlier this month which directed that the federal government and all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons globally.

The President wrote: “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.” There remains conflicts though as Landler pointed out writing:

Mr. Obama’s strategy, administration officials and gay-rights advocates said, reflects two conflicting forces. He recognizes that support for gay rights and same-sex marriage is growing, particularly among young voters.

But he is reluctant in an election year to be drawn into a culture-war issue one that reliably helps Republicans turn out evangelical voters in their favor and that also strikes a particular nerve with religious black voters, a bedrock Obama constituency in battleground states like North Carolina and Florida.

There is little indication that Mr. Obama plans to endorse same-sex marriage before the presidential election in November, despite recent statements that tiptoe right up to that position. Speaking to a gay-rights group in October, he said, “Every single American — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — every single American deserves to be treated equally before the law.”

Landler interviewed Richard Socarides, the former head of Equality Matters, a Washington-based LGBTQ Advocacy organization and a Democratic political strategist who advised former President Bill Clinton on gay-rights issues. Socarides told Landler:

“It works for the White House on several levels, particularly in an election year, gay voters will be more enthusiastic for him than we would have been a year ago.”

Mr. Socarides is among several gay-rights advocates who say they believe that Mr. Obama will declare his support for same-sex marriage before the election both because polling data shows a sharp increase in voter support for it among crucial groups, and because two pending court rulings on marriage rights will make it harder to justify the president’s position that his views are still evolving.

And in an interview with David B. Mixner, a longtime gay-rights advocate who has raised money for LGBTQ friendly candidates, Mixner told Landler, “We can keep pushing for marriage without stopping our work for him because we can just look at the cast of characters waiting in the wings.”

Landler noted that the President’s record on LGBTQ rights outside of same-sex marriage is impressive, pointing out that the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military fulfilled a campaign promise that many supporters did not believe Obama would be able to keep.

“One issue after another he’s taken them on and he’s knocked them down in a very methodical way, but consistent with his views about justice and fairness in the United States,” said Melody Barnes, Chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser.

Read Landler’s entire article at The New York Times.

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