Political Animal


July 19, 2011 4:55 PM Obama backs Respect For Marriage Act

By Steve Benen

I don’t have high hopes for the legislation — the House majority is still the House majority — but the Obama White House’s support for the Respect For Marriage Act is the latest in a series of encouraging steps on civil rights.

President Obama is throwing his support behind the Respect For Marriage Act - the bill to repeal the 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act, which banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage even for couples married under state law.

The president has “long called for a legislative appeal for the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to have a real impact on families,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at Tuesday’s briefing. He said the president “is proud” to support the Respect For Marriage Act, “which would take the Defense of Marriage Act off the books for once and for all.”

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

This comes the same year as the Obama administration’s decision to stop trying to defend DOMA against federal court challenges.

What’s more, it’s a heartening piece that fits into a larger mosaic. After two-and-a-half years, President Obama has successfully repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law; expanded federal benefits for the same-sex partners of executive-branch employees; signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law; cleared the way for hospital-visitation rights for same-sex couples; lifted the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS; ordered the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans; expanded the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship; and hired more openly gay officials than any administration in history.

There have also been more symbolic gestures, including the White House hosting an event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, announcing the first-ever transgender presidential appointee, nominating the first openly-gay man to serve on the federal judiciary, honoring same-sex couples in his Mother’s Day and Father’s Day proclamations, recording a video for the “It Gets Better” Project, and hosting Gay and Lesbian Pride Month events at the White House.

And today, the president has offered his well-timed endorsement of the Respect For Marriage Act.

I realize there are still a sizable number of people in the LGBT community who are unsatisfied with the pace of change, and consider President Obama someone who has ignored, and even betrayed, their interests. Some have even vowed not to lift a finger to help with the president’s re-election effort.

I suspect many social-conservative activists, furious with the steps Obama has already taken to advance civil rights for the LGBT community, must find this inexplicable.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • TR on July 19, 2011 5:28 PM:

    And yet, for all these incredible accomplishments, John Aravosis over at AmericaBlog won't stop screaming about how Obama is worse than a thousand Republicans.

  • DB on July 19, 2011 5:48 PM:

    Let's clarify a couple of these. Bush was the one who lifted the HIV travel ban, Obama just happened to be in office when it was implemented.

    Additionally, Obama did not repeal DADT, he signed a bill passed with bipartisan support in Congress which established a process for a future repeal. Then when the courts just a couple weeks ago ordered an immediate end to the policy, he ordered the DOJ to appeal that ruling, which resulted in the 9th Circuit restoring DADT to the books (though the 9th was fair enough to say despite restoring the law as requested the administration is still barred by the court from actually discharging anyone). And this was after the service chiefs sent reports to the administration saying they were ready for repeal. The reason or benefit in delaying further escapes me, except now when it is finally certified Obama can take credit for it rather than the credit going to the 9th Circuit and the Log Cabin Republicans who won the lawsuit in the first place.

    Has he done some good things for LGBT rights? Sure. More than Bush? Absolutely. Lived up to his pledge to be a 'fierce advocate' on LGBT issues? Heck no.

  • June on July 19, 2011 5:52 PM:

    You're right, Benen. Nothing's ever enough. The brother (Obama) can never do enough. People will gladly twist themselves into yoga positions to explain why every effort he's made on (fill in the blank) is not good enough. Meanwhile, Obama just hangs in there and keeps fighting. A quiet GObama! for the Prez.

  • IT on July 19, 2011 5:54 PM:

    Yes, we've made progress, and coming out in favor of the Respect for marriage act is great. Unfortunately it's likely to be quixotic, since there is no chance Michelle Bachmann's republican party will vote DOMA down.

    DOMA is so deeply damaging many people, myself included. I live in a limbo of second-class citizenship, a gay married Californian whose marriage vanishes when I cross state lines.

    can you imagine what will happen in the military when DADT is finally repealed? (In the interest of accuracy: DADT is not repealed yet. Repeal is pending, based on certification and then another 60 day waiting period. We hope. ) Indeed, I've read that DOMA will prevent the military from informing a same sex spouse how their loved one was killed. And all those benefits they cannot have....

    BTW, also in the interests of accuracy, those benefits for federal employees' families are less than they seem. Some relocation expenses, that kind of thing--but does not include health care, which is the benefit that most care about, and almost certainly no one who is married (legally) is eligible even for that, again, because of DOMA. Bill Clinton's massive poison pill.

  • Danny Gail McElrath on July 19, 2011 6:02 PM:

    I would like to point out that even if a miracle occurred, and the Respect for Marriage Act passed, this act does not requirie states to recognize gay marriages performed in states which allow them. So the part of DOMA allowing states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states will continue. This is an exception to the requirement that states recognize each other's laws that was written into DOMA. So still second class since this exception will continue.

  • Danny on July 19, 2011 6:54 PM:

    While many good points were made above about how nothing less than full equality and full rights can never be enough, we should also ponder the fact that the last three years have brought more positive change than the twenty years preceding them.

    Most - if not all - of that change would not have happened with a McCain/Palin administration. Anyone disagree with that?

  • Doug on July 19, 2011 8:18 PM:

    DB @ 5:48 PM, as I wasn't sitting next to Mr. Obama when the decision to appeal the 9th Circuit's ruling I can't say what his motivation was, but you might want to consider the reasoning BEHIND the DoJ's subsequent appeal. As I understand it, the DoJ requested an appeal based on the legislation that repealed DADT. In other words, since there was already a POLITICAL process in place dealing with the question before the Court, there was no need for any judicial action. What the 9th Circuit's ruling did was ensure that gay and lesbian members of the military were not harmed, in the legal sense, during the period between the legislative repeal of DADT and the actual implementation of the repeal.

    "can you imagine what will happen in the military when DADT is finally repealed?" IT @ 5:54 PM.

    Yes, and that most likely is what's behind the administration's support of the "Respect for Marriage Act". Military members cannot sue the Federal government, absent specific permission to do so. Military SPOUSES, however, are not employees and are free to sue if they so desire.

    "...this act does not require states to recognize gay marriages [erformed in the states which allow them." Danny Gail McElrath @ 6:02 PM.
    It really doesn't need to, that's already taken care of in the Consititution:
    Article I, Section 10 "No state shall...pass any...Law impairing the obligation of contracts..."
    Article IV, Section 1 "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State."
    Article IV, Section 2 "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of citizens in the several States."
    I haven't any recollection of ANY suits being filed to overturn DoMA, nor appeals of any adverse rulings. Tthe Roberts' Court, should an appeal reach it, would have to do some very selective reading of the Constitution in order NOT to declare DoMA un-Constitutional.
    Unfortuantely, they're up to the task...

  • exlibra on July 19, 2011 9:12 PM:

    During his campaign, Obama asked some bigot anti-gay preacher or singer to share the stage with him (can't remember who or where). A lot of squawking issued from the LGBT dovecotes. And again, when he said that he was for same sex unions but against marriage. That's when the mindset of some of the LGBT community was set in stone; nothing that Obama does for that community now -- quietly, without much fanfare -- is likely to change it. And that's on top of the usual complaints of *every* group which is driven by a single issue.

    Thankfully, it's not the *entire* LGBT community that thinks that way; there are still many who recognize Obama's achievements in that (and other) areas. But it's always the squeaky wheel that gets the most attention. All "402 ayindas" of them presume to shrill for the rest.

  • Dan on July 19, 2011 9:41 PM:

    Well, there is so much to say. But I will leave it at this: DADT repeal, such as it is, would not have happened without the bitching and screaming of activists like John Aravosis. It simply wouldn't have happened. I would guess the same is true for the movement on marriage equality.

    We have learned that a small, fiercely loyal, constituency gets nothing when our support is unconditional. The face of unconditional support in the gay community is Go Proud, and that stuff is ridiculous.

  • emjayay on July 19, 2011 9:42 PM:

    Thanks Doug. Saved me a bunch of time.

    Danny: WTF? More like 90% of the stuff (100%?), symbolic and not, that Steve wrote about would not have happened under (shudder) McCain/Palin. McCain you may remember kept thinking of more new reasons to keep DADT every time his last requirement was met.

    Can you imagine a Palin It Gets Better video? "All you lez-bee-ans and homosexual boys out there, you betcha it gets better. Just as soon as you accept Christ as your personal saviour and allow him into your life, he will guide you to turn your back on your sinful impulses and say 'Begone Satan.' Pretty soon you'll find that guy or gal (and I do mean the guy or gal Jesus wants you to marry, not the wrong kind) and Jesus will bless you with lots of straight children named after maybe a city in England, a tree, what Nascars race on, a small airplane, or maybe also some kind of class you heard someone else was taking once when you were at one of your colleges. Then everything will be better for sure!"

  • Devin Gray on July 19, 2011 10:55 PM:

    Would I prefer if the change of pace were faster? Yes. What lesson did you learn from the 2010 elections? What I learned is that when we sit on our hands the TEA party takes over. This is not their doing. There are not enough of them to outnumber us. It is our fault that the house of representatives fell into republican hands. And if you decide to "protest vote" in 2012, you may be giving them the senate and the presidency too.

  • Dan on July 19, 2011 11:49 PM:

    @Devin, I think the question is not who to vote for, but money, effort & enthusiasm, That is the margin that has to be earned and not taken for granted.

    The flip side of enthusiasm unfulfilled is betrayal. Several posters poo-poo the Presidents shortcomings on civil rights, but the fact is he promised more. Especially with regard to the downright hostile actions of his DoJ on DADT and DOMA during the first two years of his administration (recent DOMA developments notwithstanding). Obama has done less than we could have expected from any Democratic president in 2011.

    I was a dedicated Obama partisan in 2008. I thought Hilary had too much history, especially on health care. But what we got was Obama entering negotiations on everything -- health care, DADT, debt ceiling, Guantanomo -- with half measures. At best, the man always starts negotiating with what we need to get, ensuring that we end up with less. He's gotten some wins. He should have gotten more.

    I am not a single issue voter. I see a real pattern of missed opportunities and broken promises. That said, there's no way I won't vote him next year.

  • Danny on July 20, 2011 4:29 AM:


    Yes, that's exactly what I think as well!


    But I will leave it at this: DADT repeal, such as it is, would not have happened without the bitching and screaming of activists like John Aravosis. It simply wouldn't have happened. I would guess the same is true for the movement on marriage equality.

    Some annoying blowhard deserve the credit for DADT repeal. No proof or even circumstancial evidence necessary:

    When it comes to the president most likely he has nothing to do with legislation he signs, or he at least opposes it and only signs when his hand is forced.

    When it comes to the silent majority of the gay community that supports the president and are at all times working their ass off to effect and forward change, they're not very important.

    When it comes to controversy-monkeys trying to get attention by saying stupid things, their share of credit in any advance in gay rights and their place in the history books is prima facie self evident.

  • beatab on July 20, 2011 5:02 AM:

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  • Danny Gail McElrath on July 20, 2011 8:09 AM:

    Yes, I know about the full faith and credit part of the Constitution. But DOMA specifically exempts states from this in regard to gay marriages performed in another state. You would think they couldn't negate part of the Constitution with just a law, but that exemption is in DOMA and states have used it to refuse recognition to gay marriages from other states. I read the description of what is in the Respect for Marriage Act and it was specifically pointed out that nothing in there negates that exemption for states. Everything in the Respect for Marriage Act pertains only to the Federal govt. If this had not been put in DOMA, we would all be going to states where gay marriage is legal and getting married, knowing our state would have to recognize it.

    You can be sure this is deliberate. Not that this Act stands any chance of passing. But if they really wanted to do away with DOMA and everything in it, they would pass a law repealing DOMA, not this partial replacement.

    Steve, perhaps if you would write about this in your blog, people will believe it.

  • sheba57 on July 20, 2011 9:32 AM:

    i read with interest many of the comments....

    so much disappointment in the President....he did not move fast enough...he has not done enough....he has not lived up to your expectations...

    it is as if your issue is your only concern...

    However with the President of the United States...he has many concerns....the economy...unemployment....housing...healthcare....Afghanistan...to name just a few....

    and on top of all that....obstructionism from the other party....

    i do agree that in any struggle...one must push ever forward...but the hatred and the demogogery against the President...gives me pause....and makes me wonder...what is really being said...

  • emjayay on July 20, 2011 10:04 AM:

    Soooooo.....the stupid sales spammers seem to have figured out how to defeat Captcha. Didn't take long. And just like in the bad old days, WM finds it somehow impossible to monitor their blog and eliminate this crap. It's been up for five hours so far.

  • dcinsider on July 20, 2011 11:28 AM:

    You cannot read this article without reading this post from John Aravosis at Americablog that explains why this President is a constant source of frustration for our community.

    President Obama did not do one single one of these "accomplishments" out of benevolence or commitment to LGBT equality. He did them because he was forced to do them by a loud and persistent Democratic Party constituency. Mind you, he had promised to do this (and much more) but dragged his feet and criticized the LGBT community for complaining.

    Read the Aravosis piece to get the full picture of what was left out of this slanted post.

    Will I vote for Obama's re-election? Of course. I have no choice. The Republican field is abysmal. But Obama is simply the lesser of two evils, not someone who I will ever be duped by again.


  • Clarknt67 on July 20, 2011 3:08 PM:

    Ugh, this again? Can we stop arguing about Obama, it's so tiresome. Of course gays will vote for him. I don't know if Obama needs donations, he has Wall Street for that.

    I don't know if he needs volunteers. Rick Warren and the Saddleback Church crowd will be phonebanking and canvassing for Obama.

    Can you be honest about what the much ballyhooed "Federal Benefits" entail? It's like the reimbursement of the cost of Uhaul.

    It's not health insurance or pension conveyance or anything that heterosexual people take for granted.

  • Temple Houston on July 20, 2011 4:21 PM:

    It has been a kiss and a slap from the Fierce Advocate since he won the election. We learned early on that you have to raise hell with this Administration to get it to follow through on things that were promised in the campaign. Obama seems eager to take credit for "accomplishments," but not so very eager to expend political capital to fulfill his promises. He made lots and lots of promises and we believed him. Well, we don't write checks anymore and there are other races where we can volunteer our time, but that doesn't mean we won't turn out and vote for him. You would have to be a real fool to consider not voting or supporting a Republican. That's what really burns: the Administration knows it has us, it knows we know it and it will only do enough to keep the situation from blowing up in its face. You can attack Aravosis all you want and you can deny credit to gay bloggers for keeping up the pressure on the Administration, but it still can't overcome the fact that the DOJ's DOMA brief was putrid. It can't overcome the fact that DADT is still the law and that the lives and careers of servicemembers are evidently less important than having a "proper" legislative repeal.

  • Skep on July 20, 2011 6:55 PM:

    I'll give Steve Benen's smug condescension all the consideration that smug condescension from a heterosexual party hack merits--which is to say none.

  • Skep on July 21, 2011 4:29 AM:

    sheba57 on July 20, 2011 9:32 AM:

    the hatred and the demogogery against the President...gives me pause....and makes me wonder...what is really being said...

    Your baseless, ignorant, and insulting insinuation of racism just locked this gay man's wallet even tighter. Congratulations on helping to make the first black president a one-termer.

  • Misty on September 06, 2011 2:39 PM:

    @Skep: Well is it wrong to say? This is not saying every critic of this administration, gay or straight, is racist We expected it all to happen overnight. It's not that gay rights activist shouldn't continue to push, but we were failing to look at the entire picture of his presidency and spending more time on the negative than the positive. I just have to wonder why people didn't even treat Bill Clinton that way when he NOT ONLY signed DOMA into law but campaigned on it, bragged about it on evangelical christian radio and such. Why are we holding up Obama as the bigot more so than him? That really does make me say there is this double standard and maybe consciously and/or subconsciously attributed to the stereotype that black people are homophobes. We've seen that with prop 8. So stop going on defense. If you aren't racist, you are not racist. But it doesn't hurt to ask the question, does it?