I’m not known for sycophantic praise of the Obama administration’s record on gay rights. But I sincerely thought that the inclusion of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the State of the Union meant something last night. It was significant. At the very least, it was a sign that the President is starting to be concerned about relations with the gay community. And that is something.
Kevin Nix, communications director at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the group wants Obama to repeal the policy the same way Clinton introduced it in 1993 – through the defense authorization bill.
“We very much need a sense of urgency to get this done in 2010,” said Nix, whose group estimates more that 13,500 gays and lesbians have been dismissed since 1994. “What is also needed is more attention and leadership to win repeal.”
Richard Socarides, a Clinton adviser who has been a vocal critic of how Obama has handled gay constituents, was less reserved.
“In 1999, Bill Clinton became the first president ever to talk about gay rights in a State of the Union address. Eleven years later, not much has changed,” Socarides said. Talking again about ending the policy “without a moratorium on the witch hunts and expulsions and without even a plan for future action, just won’t cut it,” he said.
“Look, we are not second-class citizens and our rights are not second-term problems,” he said.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said Obama should have announced a suspension of dismissals.
“The time for broad statements is over. The time to get down to business is overdue. We wish we had heard him speak of concrete steps tonight,” Carey said.
I don’t disagree with any of them.
Now, does mentioning DADT in the SOTU mean we roll over and stop advocating for the repeal of DADT and DOMA, and the passage of ENDA? No. Does it mean that we now believe the administration is going to do the right thing and follow through on all of these promises soon, if ever? No. It means that we witnessed a step in the right direction last night on the most important promises President Obama made to our community. And that’s a good thing.
Now, those who are still concerned, I get it, and I join you. We’ve heard good speeches before. And all the good speeches don’t make up for the fact that the administration continues to kick out two gay service members a day, that they’re doing nothing to fulfill their promise to overturn DOMA, and it’s not clear what if anything they’re doing to pass ENDA. Not to mention, they’re still defending DOMA and DADT in the courts, when they don’t have to. There’s still a lot of bad going on, and one speech is not enough to make up for lots of bad acts.
But, this is a step in the right direction, and it signals we got their attention.
Where to go from here? First up, keep an eye on next week when the administration submits its budget to Congress. If DADT repeal isn’t included, that’s a sure sign of trouble.