Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why the Obama Administration Needs to Speak Up Now

I understand the politics of gay rights.  Shortly after Bill Clinton was sworn in, he broke his promise to allow LGBT people to serve openly in the military when he agreed to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.  And lest we forget, it was Bill Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which for the last decade or so has prohibited the federal government from recognizing LGBT relationships.  Bill Clinton taught me pretty much all I needed to know about how much I can trust national politicians with my rights.

And there was, unfortunately, something to be learned from Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  It became the focus of Clinton's first months, distracting from the many other issues of the day.  So I understand that President Obama might want to wait to get some major legislation, like health care, behind him.

Unfortunately, history doesn't wait, even if our President wants to.  On Monday one of the most important trials in history for LGBT people began.  It will not wait.  It will not go away.  And if we lose this trial, it will, eventually, be a deep stain on the Obama presidency.  That is, if the administration remains silent.  Because if we lose, it will be years, perhaps decades, before we will be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States -- where this trial is eventually headed -- again.

The time is now.  If the administration waits, the time will be yesterday.  The Justice Department must file a brief in support of LGBT people.

As for the three other major issues in America now -- health care, the economy, the war -- it is easy for a predominantly heterosexual administration to see LGBT concerns as a distraction.  That is, unless you live it.  Unless you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  Or unless you understand that these LGBT concerns are very much a part of these issues.

1. Health Care: Right now, the vast majority of LGBT couples are denied health care through their spouses.  And those who can get spousal benefits are taxed heavily -- unlike heterosexual couples -- by the federal government.  For example, I am on my husband's health plan.  But because the federal government doesn't recognize us, my health care is taxable income. This inequity was addressed in the House version of the Health Care Reform Bill but was cut out of the Senate version.  Health care is an LGBT issue.

2. The Economy:  The list of economic benefits denied same-sex couples is endless.  No social security benefits should a spouse die.  A heavy tax on what might be left to a spouse after the death of a partner.  Over 1,000 financial benefits are denied to LGBT couples during the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression.  The economy is an LGBT issue.

3. The WarWhether you are for it or against it, one thing is clear.  We need more servicemen and women if we are to pursue Obama's strategy.  I happen to oppose the strategy, but that's not what's at issue here.  At issue is that by denying LGBT people the right to serve openly, that strategy is at risk.  Period.  The war is an LGBT issue.

History isn't waiting.  Neither should the Obama administration.

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