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    April 11, 2008

    Some gay straight talk from Obama

    Posted by: Chris

    Kerry_obama Barack Obama's wide-ranging Advocate interview posted yesterday confirmed again that he "gets it" on LGBT issues while avoiding the temptation to pander.

    Asked what gays can "reasonably expect" to enact in an Obama administration, the Illinois senator set the bar higher for himself than Hilllary Clinton has thus far, including

    • repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell"
    • passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
    • extending domestic partner benefits to gay federal employees

    Clinton has committed to those same items, along with ushering through the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. Most importantly, Obama also said he was "very interested in making sure that             federal benefits are available to same-sex couples who have a civil union."

    Advocate News Editor Kerry Eleveld took that to mean repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, but it's actually much more sweeping. DOMA only blocks federal recognition of gay marriages, at this point are limited to Massachusetts, but says nothing about civil unions. That leaves the field open for Congress to extend to gay couples in civil unions all the federal rights and benefits of heterosexual marriage.

    Given that two-thirds of the public either supports marriage or civil unions for gay couples, Obama's proposal is a clever way of extending vitally important federal rights while recognizing the states' prerogative to decide what relationships to recognize. The real question is why we are hearing innovative proposals like this from presidential candidates and not from our own movement leadership.

    Along with the savvy legislative agenda, Obama craftily navigated several P.C. minefields. On ENDA, he said he supports trans-inclusive but says enacting it would be tough. "Obviously, my goal would be to get the strongest possible bill," he added. So why isn't that likewise obvious to HRC and the United ENDA crowd?

    On gays in the military, Obama avoids the doodoo Al Gore stepped in back in 2000, when he said opposition to the policy would be a litmus test for any chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obama has the advantage of eight more years of social acceptance within the military, but nonetheless gets it right:

    I would never make this a litmus test for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obviously, there are so many issues that a member of the Joint Chiefs has to deal with, and my paramount obligation is to get the best possible people to keep America safe. But I think there’s increasing recognition within the Armed Forces that this is a counterproductive strategy … That doesn’t make us more safe, and what I want are members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are making decisions based on what strengthens our military and what is going to make us safer, not ideology

    On marriage, Obama declined to take the bait on advising the movement to press for civil unions rather than full marriage equality:

    I don’t ask them that. Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit -- I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, "Wait your turn."       I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” where he says to the white clergy, "Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom."   

    So I strongly respect the right of same-sex couples to insist that even if we got complete equality in benefits, it still wouldn’t be equal because there’s a stigma associated with not having the same word, marriage, assigned to it.

    Not only is that respectful, it's the first time I've seen any viable presidential candidate state so succinctly the case for gay marriage over civil unions. Clearly Obama gets it, even if he's "operating in a broader political and historical context," as he puts it.

    Eleveld also manages to elicit more background from Obama about where he personally traces his comfort level on gay issues; mostly from his mother's general tolerance and an openly gay professor.

    Obama's weakest moments were at the beginning and the end of the interview. He defended his inaccessibility to the gay press as a general campaign bias in favor of "general press" or "specialty press." There are a number or problems with this, not the least of which is the frequent criticism of Obama as a feel-good candidate full of generalities.

    Sticking with mainstream media interviews only perpetuates that, since reporters with a general audience rarely plum the details of specific issues like gay rights because they are covering the field. The Advocate interview, as well as several of Clinton's gay press chats, demonstrate how the specialty press will ask important detailed questions that the broader media will miss. Obama should embrace the opportunity to get into specifics, since the reach of the Internet opens even specialty press interviews to a much broader audience.

    I'm also not buying the unsolicited analogy Obama made between ex-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin and his own pastor Jeremiah Wright. Obama argued that both were examples of the importance of opening the tent wide enough to embrace those who disagree on specific issues. Fair enough, as far as that goes. But Wright was removed from any official role in the Obama campaign, while McClurkin was invited to perform at official campaign events.

    A more consistent approach would have been to either banish both from any official campaign connection, or leave them both be while distancing himself from their more radical views. Only the politics of the moment explains the disparate treatment and Obama would be better served simply acknowledging as much.



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    1. Declarations of Pride on Apr 12, 2008 1:18:03 AM:

      Actions speak louder than words. I don't trust him for one second on any issue that relates to the safety or protection of my 16 year relationship.

      I think he is pandering, to both sides, and not very creatively.

      I don't trust him. Not one bit.

    1. Stephen Clark on Apr 12, 2008 7:54:34 AM:

      Obama's interview was compelling because he opted to speak to lesbian and gay people as intelligent adults. Hillary would have simpled talked down, distorted the origins of DOMA and DADT beyond recognition, and treated us all like impressionable children incapable of an intelligent debate.

      That said, I don't find Chris's criticisms of Obama's POV on the gay-media tempest-in-a-teacup especially persuasive. That just comes across as the circle-the-wagons mentality among gay journalists.

      Nor do I find the criticism here of the Wright-McClurkin comments very compelling. The criticism bizarrely equates Wright and McClurkin without recalling that Wright had an official campaign position while McClurkin was, so far as I know, merely invited to one event, probably by South Carolina field operatives. I've never cared for Obama's treatment of McClurkin as just another disparate voice in the Democratic family, but it also appears that he has been banished from the Obama campaign. I'm not sure what Chris wants Obama to do: appoint McClurkin to an official campaign position so that he can then be officially fired?

    1. Fiona Cutten on Apr 12, 2008 2:37:20 PM:

      Notably the extension of federal benefits to same sex couples in Civil Unions isn't on his list of "reasonably expect" but on his list of "very interested in" ie not achievable for a while ! - PLEASE Mr Obama et al be aware that we as Binational LGBT people without any means of joining are loved ones on your soil are more than "very interested in" and "reasonably expect" !!!!!

    1. BB on Apr 12, 2008 4:58:18 PM:

      In a Democracy it becomes about educating the people, and changing their minds. We are aware of the concept that America needed to (and failed) to win the hearts and minds of the people in IRAQ. Obama, if President, can not make decrees on behalf of the gay community, and so will it be done. In this Country, in which the gay community, at large, is not actively seeking to win the hearts and minds of the people, a President can do but so much. It seems like Obama is being realistic about what he thinks he can and can not push for, at this present time. Remembering that there are many Republicans in Congress who are there to vote on behalf of the homophobes who put them there. AND, sadly, not all Democrats in Congress are free of homophobia. Just a lot more are than within the Republican Party.

      The minority of gays can not alone win the hearts and minds of the people, while the majority of gays hide, afraid and too ashamed to let those who love them know they are gay. If every gay person in America came out to their loved ones, then almost EVERY person in America will learn that they have a child, or parent, or sibling, or relative, or friend, or good neighbor, ETC, who are gay. And then gay rights will become important to almost everyone and not just to the few. THEN an Obama could be more optimistic about what he can and can not do, for the gay community. It is up to US to do our part, so an Obama can then do his. All within the gay community must heal of shame. Shame has been imposed upon us, and we must heal from it. It's easy to heal from it too. Just get really angry and say NO to shame, when it comes forth within us. Shame causes many within the gay community to think that they perhaps are SICK and undeserving.

    1. kd on Apr 13, 2008 3:38:05 PM:

      I trust him more than Clinton - who was part of an administration that endorsed, and then passed, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Hillary still supports DOMA, while Obama endorses its repeal. What more needs to be said?

    1. Brian Miller on Apr 14, 2008 5:46:28 PM:

      If Obama favors all of these things, he could co-sponsor or sponsor legislation in the Senate to do all of these things.

      Yet he has done literally nothing on any of them.

      Even Clinton has co-sponsored an effort to introduce a repeal of the military's anti-gay ban (something that Obama has not done yet claims to support).

      Obama is all talk. He has not once demonstrated any action on any of the issues he's talking about.

      He also was so terrified of the local gay press (who ask tough questions), that he's decided instead to talk to friends at the Advocate. After all, the Advocate is not known for its tough questioning of political candidates -- but is rather renowned for its puff pieces.

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