I try not to be vocal about my politics, in life or on the blog, but sometimes an exception to my self-imposed restraint presents itself.
This week, it was announced that the Supreme Court would not hear a case that challenged 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The announcement wasn’t a terrible surprise in and of itself. What was surprising was that this decision was supported by the Obama Administration. Curious, since the president listed the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the creation of stronger hate crime laws among the things on the top of his White House To Do List while campaigning last year.
Stranger still was the even more recent publication of a legal brief, written by the Assistant Attorney General and other top figures within President Obama’s Justice Department, that said the Administration would continue to support DOMA, and gave a half dozen examples based on flawed, circuitous logic as to why.
Let’s boil things down to the basics, because I’m no John Jay here. Hell, I’m not even an Elle Woods.
DOMA’s two main effects are such:
1) No state needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
2) The federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states.
Bottom line? DOMA doesn’t outlaw gay marriage; it just says that state and federal governments have no obligation to recognize gay marriages. And by “not recognizing” them, it means not affording committed homosexual couples the same socioeconomic benefits (property rights, insurance coverage, matters of inheritance, etc.) afforded to committed heterosexual couples. Separate and not quite equal.
With that in mind, take in this sentence from the Obama Justice Department’s concluding argument in the aforementioned brief:
“In short, therefore, DOMA, understood for what it actually does, infringes on no one’s rights.”
Being pressed on the matter almost immediately after the brief began to be circulated through the media yesterday afternoon, the White House offered the following statement:
“As it generally does with existing statutes, the Justice Department is defending the law on the books in court. The President has said he wants to see a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. However, until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system.”
So, the Administration is basically saying that they’d love to grant equal rights to one and all, but they’d rather that somebody else do it. President Obama wants the motion to come from the floor of Congress, not from his desk. Not a very assertive standpoint from the guy who said he was all about, you know, changing things. I mean, I guess his hands are tied after all. It’s not like the president can, you know, issue an executive order, effectively immediately, to rectify such a delicate situation as defending Americans’ civil rights.
Oh, wait. He can.
And check it out, kids! Other presidents have done just that in the past. Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the military. Richard Nixon, that bastion of moral fortitude, still managed to sign Executive Order 11478, which outlawed racial, ethnic, gender, age, and sexual orientation discrimination in the federal government’s civilian workforce. And let’s not forget that Abraham Lincoln issued what is officially cataloged as Executive Order 1: the Emancipation Proclamation.
Smell that, Mr. President? It’s called irony, and sometimes it’s positively rotten.
All right, now suppose President Obama has his reasons for not wanting to issue an executive order. Maybe he’s not too keen on wielding his pen like the Royal Blessed Imperial Sceptre and flexing the might of the Oval Office, particularly after the last guy to sit behind that desk took so much flak for doing the very same thing. Understood. But encouraging the Supreme Court to turn away a case? That’s an abuse of power if I ever saw one.
Look, if President Obama is backing off his promises to the LGBT community because he fears losing some traction on other initiatives on his agenda, so be it. It sucks, but it’s what any other politician would do; and I think it’s clear that for all his talk of change, the president is not much different from any other politician. He plays the game; arguably, he plays it better than anyone else.
But if President Obama, a man who is the product of a marriage that itself was considered illegal before a Supreme Court case (the ironically if appropriately named Loving v. Virginia) declared such statutes unconstitutional, sincerely believes that gay and lesbian couples do not deserve to have their unions recognized, protected, and upheld by every level of government in this country…well, then he had better look for some nice real estate back in Chicago.
Honestly, Barack Obama. Honestly…