Oh No Homo: How John Boehner and the New Republican Majority Will Do to Gays What They Wish We’d Stop Doing to Each Other
The LGBT community is a reliable democratic voting block. The Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest gay republican group, claims about 19,000 members. Obama was just the most recent in a string of democratic presidential candidates who courted the gay vote, made a lot of promise to us, and failed to deliver. Bill Clinton is probably the most egregious of these candidates. After courting the gay vote, and becoming the first president to visit the AIDS quilt on the National Mall, he signed both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and “The Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) into law. When Hillary answered questions at a LOGO forum, Melissa Etheridge asked her, point blank, if she, like her husband, would throw us under the bus. Hillary fumbled through an answer about Bill’s gay appointees and fighting New Gingrich. It was Obama who seems to have made a better impression on the gays. Most of the queers I know were early supporters. Perhaps it was a sense of camaraderie between the LGBT community and a candidate who belongs to a disenfranchised minority.
In campaigning for President, Obama spoke of repealing DADT and DOMA and his support for equal rights for LGBT couples (he stopped short of declaring his support of full marriage equality). November 4, 2008 was a tremendously hopeful day for a lot of us. We had joined Obama’s campaign in droves, knocked on doors, phonebanked, mailed letters, and schlepped to battleground states, and it worked. We helped hand Obama a bully pulpit which we thought (and hoped) he’d use to push a progressive agenda. But time after time, we’ve been disappointed. And now with the loss of a democratic majority in the House, it will be nearly impossible to pass any pro-gay legislation. They will block the repeals of DADT and DOMA, and will attempt to roll back the Health Care Reform bill.
In September of this year, a repeal of DADT was within reach. Lady Gaga had succeeded in stirring up publicity by showing up at the MTV VMAs with four discharged soldiers, but John McCain promised to filibuster, and we fell short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate. Arkansas’ two democratic senators voted with Republicans, and even Lady Gaga wasn’t enough to flip either of Maine’s republican senators. The repeal, which was included in the Defense Bill, was dead on the Senate floor. The only hope now is a vote during the lame duck session, but I’m not holding my breath. So it looks like, unless Obama steps in, this law may remain in effect despite a Federal Judge’s ruling it unconstitutional, arguing that the law violates the first and fifth amendments. It is not hard to see how this law hurts the LGBT community, and not hard to imagine the lengths to which the GOP will go keep it in place. (My more hopeful look at the repeal of DADT can be found here.)
One of the most frustrating pieces of this issue is that a complete repeal of DADT requires a full repeal of DOMA. The latter bill, signed by Clinton in 1996, states that no individual state is required to recognize a legally performed same-sex union from another state, and defines marriage- for federal purposes- as a union between one man and one woman. The latter stipulation here precludes the United States Military from recognizing same-sex unions of soldiers, and therefore precludes same-sex partners from receiving health and/or survivor benefits, on-base living arrangements, and perhaps worst of all, means that the Military is under no obligation to notify same-sex partners of the deaths of servicemembers. For all the talk about marriage being a state’s issue, DOMA illustrates that, to the contrary, this is a federal issue. Even though full marriage equality exists in five states (NH, MA, CT, IA, VT), no other state is required to acknowledge these unions, and even legally married couples living in one of these states are not entitled to federal marriage benefits; they must, for example, file separate income taxes.
The Obama administration’s Department of Justice issued a brief in the summer of 2009 (during the same month that Obama extended some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees) defending DOMA, a move that angered gay rights advocates and many Obama supporters. A month or so after the brief, Obama restated his belief in repeal, and worked to distance himself from the DOJ brief. Though he continues to say he is committed to repealing DOMA, he has done little to advance the cause. While the extension of these benefits (which do not include health care, due to DOMA provisions), are certainly a step forward for gay families, they are not enough.
In the past three sessions of Congress, John Boehner has received a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, which rates politicians based on their support for LGBT issues. Though Bill Clinton and seven of DOMA’s original supporters now support repeal, it looks unlikely in Boehner’s House. The new GOP majority in the House has a disturbing track record on our issues. I have no doubt they are prepared to block any legislation that would repeal or roll back DADT or DOMA. Boehner seems to determined to block every progressive measure Obama and the democrats introduce. His comments include:
“This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles.” He said he would work with Obama “to the extent the president wants to work with us, in terms of our goals,” and “We’d welcome his involvement.” Most disturbingly, Boehner promised this of Obama’s agenda: “We’re going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.”
This does not bode well for the “gay agenda.”
One of the scariest prospects is the potential repeal or roll-back of the Health Care bill. This is terrifying from a public health perspective (I work for a Medicaid office and have a huge number of low-income clients who work too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private or employer-sponsored coverage), but may also be hugely detrimental to gay couples. “Obamacare” can help gay couples in a few ways. First, domestic partner benefits are hardly universal, so many gay people are ineligible for the insurance benefits that their partners receive through work. Now they will be able to purchase coverage without going bankrupt. Second, it will raise Medicaid limits for adults without children- a category into which many young, gay, working people fall. Third, with a renewed emphasis on primary care, the bill could inspire a shift away from fancy, high-income specialties like plastic surgery and cardiology. With new ideas for addressing the supply/demand issue for medical students and prevention-based incentives for keeping patients healthy, an increase in primary care physicians means increased access to care for gay people, and everyone else.
Though Obama has thrown the gay community a few nice bones, and appointed a lot of gay people to high-profile positions, he has fallen short on two big campaign promises. DADT is still in effect, as is DOMA, and now with the GOP gains in the House, it looks unlikely we’ll see any changes before 2012. These bills are disenfranchising individuals and families all over the country, and Obama has not been the champion we were hoping for. If he is unable (or refuses) to repeal these laws, and allows the House to peel awaay his landmark Health Care bill, we’ll have to add him to the list of presidents who courted our votes with promises of change and then sacrificed us for the sake of politics.