Arts & Entertainment
By Eric W. Rader
Originally printed 5/3/2012 (Issue 2018 - Between The Lines News)
In his three years as president, Barack Obama has taken a number of actions to advance LGBT equality in the United States. Only one other chief executive, Bill Clinton, made any real effort to push for equal rights for our community while in office. President Obama, meanwhile, has made a number of decisions that have moved our community a giant step forward toward greater legal equality in our country. The two most significant pro-gay laws signed by the current president include the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, and the repeal of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. The president has also used his executive powers to reduce discrimination. In 2009, President Obama ended a travel ban that had prevented HIV-positive foreigners from entering the United States. In another executive action, he ordered all U.S. hospitals that accept federal money to grant visitation rights to the same-sex partners of patients. Last year, the Obama Administration announced that it would no longer defend the highly discriminatory "Defense of Marriage Act" in federal court. The president has also appointed a host of openly gay women and men to high-level executive positions in government, and has met regularly with leaders of the LGBT community at the White House.
While the president clearly believes in the inherent worth, dignity, and right to equality of all LGBT Americans, there are some areas where Obama has been slow to act. The most obvious place where the president lags is in his position on equal marriage rights. Earlier in his political career, Obama favored the right of same-sex couples to marry. Since he became active in national politics, the president has changed his position on marriage equality; he is against federal efforts to ban gay marriage, but does not currently favor allowing gay couples to have full marriage rights. However, in 2011 Obama said his position on this issue is "evolving," and there is a strong hope that the president will eventually endorse the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Another area where LGBTs often suffer discrimination is in the workplace. Currently, a Clinton-era executive order prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal employment. This order does not apply outside the federal government, and Congress has shown no willingness to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would ban workplace discrimination in the private sector. Many people had been hopeful that President Obama would sign an executive order extending the nondiscrimination policy to federal contractors; his Administration has said that such an order is not forthcoming.
While the president has not been perfect on issues of LGBT equality, it is important not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. The truth is that President Obama has been quite good on LGBT equality. In contrast to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, the president is far superior on equal rights for our community. The former Massachusetts governor was once in favor of some legal protections for gays, but can no longer hold such positions and still gain the nomination of the modern-day Republican Party. Hostility to equal rights for marginalized groups is now the norm for the GOP, and any candidate who dares to speak out on behalf of these groups incurs the wrath of the far right fringe that controls the Republican Party.
It's important to remember how much President Obama has done for our community, despite falling short on a few issues. While the president may not agree with us on everything, he does understand that discrimination against people because of sexual orientation and gender identity is wrong and has worked to end it. Romney, on the other hand, is willing to cater to the bigoted demands of the far right fringe of his political party. We need only recall how divisive the last Republican president, George W. Bush, was in using gay rights as a wedge issue in his reelection campaign in 2004. Republicans have moved even further to the right in the years since Bush's second term, and a President Romney, in combination with a Republican Congress, would make Bush look like a moderate on social issues. All of us must recognize the stakes in this election and not get caught up in the trap of political purity. President Obama is a friend to our community with a few flaws, while Romney is certainly not our friend and is almost completely flawed on the issues that matter most to us. LGBT voters need to look at the candidates' records when voting this year - there is a clear difference between the two candidates for president that should not be ignored.
White House web page on President Obama and the LGBT Community: http://www.whitehouse.gov/lgbt.