During the campaign, Barack Obama made a lot of promises to various constituencies of the Democratic Party, including the gay/lesbian lobby — and they’re agitating for some action on these pledges. Obama insisted yesterday at a meeting of a gay-rights organization that he would end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in the military and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), but the attendees could be excused a healthy amount of skepticism:
President Barack Obama pledged to end the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military in a speech Saturday, but acknowledged to a cheering crowd that the policy changes he promised on the campaign trail are not coming as quickly as they expected.
“I will end ‘don’t ask-don’t tell,'” Obama said at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to end the ban, but did not give a timetable or the specifics that some activists have called for. …
“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country,” Obama said. “We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage … especially when we are fighting two wars. …
Obama also called on Congress to repeal the Defense Of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also called for a law to extend benefits to domestic partners.
First, DOMA does not limit how states can recognize partnerships, as the AP writes. States can pass whatever partnership laws they want. What DOMA does is keep the federal government from forcing states to recognize the partnership laws of other states, bypassing the “full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution for marriage laws. Congress enacted it when it became apparent that judges in state courts wanted to bypass legislatures and carve out legal civil marriages for gays through judicial activism.
Repealing DOMA would take some work. Obama has to get both the House and Senate to pass a repeal of the law, which still remains popular. If he wanted to do that, he would need to act rather quickly, as Democrats will likely lose a lot of ground in the midterms. However, with the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare bill stalled in Congress, another unpopular cap-and-trade bill stuck as well, and 2009 running out of days, we’re not likely to see any attempt until at least 2011. Democrats know a repeal attempt in an election year would be political suicide for the midterms — and after the midterms, they’re not likely to have the strength to pass it.
DADT is another matter entirely. All it would take to end it is an executive order. Obama is, after all, the Commander in Chief. Obama wants Congress to take the heat for this as well, though, and has passed the buck on the issue since his first day in office. What’s more, on this issue, Obama has it right. DADT served a useful purpose in showing that gays can serve honorably in the military, but the time has come to end it. Unfortunately for his cheering throngs at the HRC dinner, Obama doesn’t have the courage of his own convictions to take that step himself.
In other words, these sound an awful lot like his other promises — which Jim Geraghty reminds us always come with expiration dates.