Obama’s a Mixed Bag on GLBT Issues

Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama gave a interesting interview to the Washington Blade GLBT newspaper via email. What fascinates most is that we learn a lot about him from what he says — and perhaps more from what he won’t.

Here is an excerpt:

Blade: You have called for the full repeal of DOMA. If elected president, will you introduce legislation calling for its repeal during your first year in office?

Obama: I have long been on record opposing DOMA, and an Obama-Biden administration will work hard to ensure that we can pass a repeal of that law as soon as possible.

Blade: Do you think repeal of all of DOMA would, in fact, prompt Congress to strongly consider and possibly pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage?

Obama: …I think this issue ties in to who controls Congress. And a Democratic Congress that enacts a repeal of DOMA would not be likely to pass a Constitutional ban on gay marriage — partly because our party rejects enshrining discrimination and divisive distinctions among citizens into our founding documents.

Blade: If DOMA is repealed fully or in part, the federal government most likely still could not recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships performed by states. Would you ask Congress to pass federal enabling legislation that would require the federal government to recognize civil unions and/or domestic partnerships performed by states so that same-sex couples joined in civil unions or domestic partnerships could obtain the same federal rights and benefits of marriage that you have called for?

Obama: I support the notion that all people — gay or straight — deserve the same rights and responsibilities to assist their loved ones in times of emergency, deserve equal health insurance and other employment benefits currently extended to heterosexual married couples, and deserve the same property rights as anyone else.

If elected, I would call on Congress to enact legislation that would repeal DOMA and ensure that the over 1,100 federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally recognized unions.

Blade: As your administration moves past abstinence-until-marriage sex education initiatives, will it craft a replacement program that provides safe-sex messages specific to gay youth?

Obama: While abstinence education should be part of any strategy, we also need to use common sense and provide our children with information to protect them from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

That is why I am an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies and diseases. The Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods.

Blade: You and other senators are on record supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but the act has not yet been introduced in the Senate. If John McCain wins in November, would you agree to introduce ENDA as a senator in 2009?

Obama: Senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts has traditionally been the original Senate sponsor of ENDA. I would, without hesitation, list myself as an original co-sponsor, but given his years of work on the issue, would defer to him on the actual introduction of the bill.

Blade: Del Martin died on Aug. 27 — she and Phyllis Lyon, her partner of 55 years, got married in the first legal gay union in California in June — affording Phyllis many of the basic protections and rights granted to married couples, such as hospital visitations and estate planning issues. Do you envision a time when all GLBT citizens will have similar basic rights? During your administration?

Obama: Michelle and I were extremely saddened to learn about Del’s passing. Del committed her life to fighting discrimination and promoting equality.

As I have said before, I’m running for President to build an America that lives up to our founding promise of equality for all — a promise that certainly extends to the LGBT community. I do envision a time when we all enjoy that promise, but we have to work hard to get there. LGBT Americans deserve real change, and they deserve it now. Certainly as a nation we can all agree that discrimination has no place in our America. Same-sex couples face legal discrimination every day — that we can, and must, end — by repealing DOMA, providing federal rights and responsibilities to same-sex families, and supporting LGBT parents, to start. And we need to remember that it’s not just couples that need protection — we need to pass long overdue legislation that ends employment discrimination, enhances hate crimes protections, and repeals “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

It’s disappointing that Obama, like his opponent, believes full equality is available to GLBT people without extending them the legal right to enjoy civil marriage on a federal level. It isn’t. Yet the Illinois senator still skirts around the issue, and in fact, did not submit answers to three questions sent to him by the Blade:

• If the full repeal of DOMA forces all states to recognize same-sex marriages passed by just a few states, aren’t you, in effect, supporting same-sex marriage in the United States? As a former law professor, do you believe the repeal of DOMA would force all states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Mass. and Calif. under the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause?

• How would you handle institutions such as the Boy Scouts and Salvation Army — which have been known to engage in discriminate against gays — to underscore your message?

• If the D.C. City Council approves a same-sex marriage bill as many expect next year, would you support a move to allow Congress to debate it and possibly overturn it?

I won’t be satisfied until he answers these questions. And Obama should know that millions of people he wants to serve as president are intelligent enough to know that until GLBT Americans can enjoy the same thing that heterosexual Americans have — civil marriage, and not a separate-and-unequal equivalent — we are not equal under law, however prettily he speaks. Sure, some will accept a pale imitation, but an increasing number of us are self-actualized enough to just say no to Jim Crow — and, if need be, to Barack Obama.

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