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23 Jun, 2009 08:13

Is Obama toying with America’s gay community?

Is Obama toying with America’s gay community?

Obama claims to support same-sex unions, so benefits for gay and lesbian federal employees should display his goodwill, yet an overall lack of progress and mixed messages have converted some supporters into skeptics.

After decades with the US State Department, Michael Guest, the first openly gay ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate resigned. He didn’t leave his job because he no longer wanted to work, he left because he had to make a choice.

“For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I’ve felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner – who is my family – and service to my country,” Mr. Guest said.

“That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary's leadership and a shame for this institution and our country,” he added.

President Obama is wholly opposed to the idea of losing other members of the federal workforce for this reason.

“It is too late to prevent Ambassador Guest from having to make the choice he made,” said the President in a statement announcing new benefits for the same sex partners of federal employees.

Michael Guest resigned in 2007 under the Bush Administration, when Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State.

In contrast to her predecessor, Hillary Clinton said, “As one of my first acts as Secretary, I directed the Department to review whether we had the flexibility to extend additional benefits to domestic partners.”

Unlike the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which muzzles gays and lesbians from disclosing their sexuality, the new policy announced by President Obama requires openness. For federal employees to gain benefits for their partners they must sign affidavits acknowledging them.

Doing so will entitle same-sex partners to privileges such as diplomatic passports, inclusion in overseas travel orders and allowances, and recognition as family members for leave and emergency travel visits.

Obama also ordered the Office of Personnel Management to issue guidance to all executive departments and agencies reminding them that it is against the law to discriminate against federal employees or applicants on the basis of factors not related to job performance.

Not all praise and applause

Critics say this single action, which only affects a relatively small portion of America’s gay and lesbian community, is far short of showing a real effort to fulfill all the promises Obama has made.

The President expressed a desire to do more but noted that, “[his] administration is not authorized by Federal law to extend a number of available Federal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.”

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed by President Clinton, prevents the federal government from recognizing a spouse as a person of the same sex.

Obama is opposed to DOMA and has said that he wants to abolish the law. Gay and lesbian Americans are still waiting for action to support the words.

Instead, they received a slap in the face from the Department of Justice (DOJ), which dismissed a same-sex case that questioned the constitutionality of DOMA, with a brief that contained enraging statements.

Among them, the DOJ said the government “continues the long-standing federal policy of affording federal benefits and privileges on the centuries-old form of marriage, without committing the federal government to devote scarce resources to newer forms of the institution…”

A week later President Obama was announcing that “scarce resources” would be invested in same-sex partners. The federal policy drastically and conveniently changed ahead of the Democratic National Committee fundraiser scheduled for June 25.

However, the damage was done and the remedy insufficient for many. High profile guests began shunning the event following the inflammatory DOJ brief.

Among those who decided not to attend was Vermont Senate President Peter Shumlin.

In an email Newsweek claims is a copy of the one sent to the fundraiser’s organizers, Shumlin wrote, “…the Administration has chosen to discriminate against a minority group that we all have a responsibility to be more courageous in defending. This action will only serve to sow the seeds for further hatred and division against the only minority group left in America that politicians can publicly discriminate against and see their approval ratings rise.”

Michelle Smith for RT