Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Obama Wrong on Gay Rights

Last week, Republicans in the Senate led a filibuster to prevent debate on a bill that would repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law – the military policy barring openly gay soldiers from service – a move that will go down in history as another right-wing obstruction of equal rights for all Americans. But Republicans are only partly to blame for the continuation of this cruel and unjust policy.

It is impossible to overlook President Obama’s inaction on this issue – and on gay rights in general. Instead of pushing for an up-or-down vote on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the president allowed Democrats in Congress to attach a repeal proposal to the Defense Authorization Act, complicating what should have been a straightforward roll call. In addition, instead of placing an immediate moratorium on the law’s enforcement while Congress debated repeal, the president has stood by while the Justice Department continues to defend the policy in court.

Obama’s calculated approach to gay rights reaches as far back as the presidential campaign. “If I were advising the civil rights movement back in 1961 about its approach to civil rights,” Obama said during a forum organized by the Human Rights Campaign in 2007, “I would have probably said it’s less important that we focus on an anti-miscegenation law than we focus on a voting rights law and a nondiscrimination and employment law and all the legal rights that are conferred by the state.”

If that sounded like sidestepping, it’s because it was. The president, who was responding to a question about whether he thought his support of civil unions amounted to a “separate but equal” position, chose not to repeat the argument that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” Instead, he said, essentially, that gay activists should focus on other things right now – that they should take small steps. The marriage question, he seemed to say, will resolve itself eventually.

We have been told many times that gay rights is all about timing – waiting for the right moment. This mantra was repeated frequently in the months leading up to last week’s calamity in the Senate. Of course, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded Americans in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963, it’s easy to tell others to wait for justice when you have not felt the sting of oppression yourself. All of us have a threshold of tolerance for mistreatment, and it’s fair to say that most gay Americans – especially gay members of the armed forces – have reached this threshold.

Discrimination starts at the legal level. Can we expect Americans to accept gays as equals if the military continues to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation? Can we expect parents to accept gay children, athletes to welcome gay teammates or bosses to hire gay employees if U.S. law implies that a gay relationship is somehow less valid than a straight relationship?

It’s time for Obama to get serious about gay rights. To be sure, his administration has made some important steps already, such as passing a bill last year that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual based on his or her sexual orientation. But he has a long way to go if he wants to prove that he will live up to the promise of his campaign, during which he pledged to be a “fierce advocate” for the gay community.

If Obama is serious about repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” – if, as he said in his 2010 State of the Union address, he believes it is “the right thing to do” – he should sign an executive order putting an immediate moratorium on the law. And if he is serious about the larger gay rights cause, he should have the courage to say publicly that barring gays from marriage is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

If the president is waiting to act because he believes that cultural change is inevitable, I would again direct him to the words of King, who, in many ways, laid the groundwork for Obama’s own improbable election: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”

Peter Fulham is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at POTOMAC VIEWS appears every other Friday.”

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