Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another Shrug from Obama

by Jennifer Vanasco

First published in the Chicago Free Press on June 10, 2009

Illinois's civil unions bill, after passing a state House committee, was left to languish at the end of the session.

The bill is still alive, if barely: it can be passed by the state legislature anytime in the next two years.

It doesn't really surprise me that the bill hasn't moved this year. Despite neighboring Iowa's fantastic move to full marriage equality, Illinois's state legislature had other things to worry about, thanks to the corruption scandal surrounding Rod Blagojevich. It’s also, despite it’s tentative blue status, fairly conservative — note that the bill was for civil unions in a year when marriage is the biggest player at the table.

But that should have been its advantage.

Let's pause for a moment to consider this: Illinois is President Barack Obama's home state (at least as an adult). Obama has said — emphatically — that he is for civil unions, not marriage. And that he wants equal legal rights for gay and lesbian couples.

Why didn't Obama lobby for the bill?

Why didn't he say in a speech something like: "My own great state of Illinois is working now to further the equal rights of gay couples. I hope they pass the current civil unions bill."

Why didn't he call his former friends in the legislature, where he was a state senator, after all, and encourage them to do the right thing?

"Promises of ‘change’ are not enough. We supported Obama with our dollars and our labor, and it is time he supports us in return."If he's not for equal marriage — and he's not (he prefers gays and lesbians to have "separate but equal" status instead) — why isn't he trumpeting the recent passage of domestic partnerships in Nevada, or partnerships in Washington state?

Easy. It's the same reason he hasn't moved on the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell military ban (which the majority of Americans support) and why he didn’t issue a supportive statement on the Uniting American Families Act when it was being debated in Congress last week.

Gays and lesbians are not his priority. Which is why the only "accomplishment" his administration could claim in proclaiming the White House's support for Gay Pride month was this:

"I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate—confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration."

Except — ooops — the Advocate reported that this isn't true. President Clinton nominated Roberta Achtenberg as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and Bruce Lehman as Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, both within his first hundred days.

The White House's response?

"President Obama remains the first president to have openly LGBT candidates confirmed by the Senate during the first 100 days of an Administration."

Call me crazy, but that doesn't seem like "fierce" advocacy to me. Things got worse this week when the Supreme Court turned down the opportunity to review Don't Ask, Don’t Tell — partly because the Obama Administration argued that it was a "rational" policy.

Obama has been mostly silent on our issues since taking office. Insiders tell us that he will keep his promises. They tell us to be patient. They tell us to wait.

Maybe they're right. Maybe not. Maybe the Obama Administration really is working like crazy behind the scenes to dismantle DOMA and Don’t Ask, to support the Employment Non—Discrimination Act and the Uniting American Families Act. Maybe they're just hoping if they placate us enough, we’ll go away.

All we know for sure when it comes to this Administration is that hope is not enough. Promises of "change" are not enough. We supported Obama with our dollars and our labor, and it is time he supports us in return.

But until he does, the good people of Illinois — like good people all over the country — have to wait for their rights.

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