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To Gays Who Supported Him, Obama Hasn't Walked the Walk

by Rick Montgomery

If Diane Silver's blog reflects the sentiments of gay and lesbian Americans in the heartland, President Barack Obama is fast losing a serious fan base.

A student waves a flag at a gay rights protest in Westwood, California. President Barack Obama has extended some federal benefits to same-sex partners of US government workers, in what he said was a historic step towards equality for gays and lesbians. But activists say Obama has delivered mostly token actions and empty words. (AFP/File/Gabriel Bouys) The Topeka woman's postings throughout June, which is Gay Pride Month, have railed about what she calls Obama's "awful record ... token action and empty words."

She called his Justice Department's recent court filing - a 54-page defense of a federal marriage law that Obama had pledged to repeal - "hideous."

Many in the movement still speak hopefully of a president who won their overwhelming support in the 2008 elections. But the enthusiasm - and the same level of campaign contributions - may not be there for other Democrats in next year's elections.

Complaints over what many see as the administration's lack of zeal are found throughout the gay and lesbian blogosphere.

Stampp Corbin, a gay San Diego city commissioner who rallied supporters to Obama's presidential bid, wrote online: "When I wake up each morning, I feel a ...' It's bit schizophrenic myself. 'I love Obama, I hate Obama, I am ambivalent maddening."

Corbin was among several leaders of gay and lesbian communities who Thursday boycotted a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Washington. He suggested the White House had better start delivering results "or the coffers of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community will be slammed shut on the fingers of your administration."

Nationally, gay-rights groups continue to count the president as a friend, at least in public. Given persistent pledges to end the military's ban on openly gay service members, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and to repeal discriminatory elements of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, the White House hopes for a strong showing next week when Obama hosts a Gay Pride reception.

The president, shouldering a Sherpa's load of issues and projects since his swearing-in five months ago, is seen as trying to avoid complicating his agenda by igniting the culture wars.

"Right now people are upset, but we're trying not to seem selfish," said John Long, publisher of Camp, the monthly magazine of Kansas City's LGBT communities.

"There are so many other important things to be addressed - two wars, health care, the economy," he said. "Nobody wants to come off looking like, 'It's about " me, me, me.'

On Facebook, blog sites and online social networks, a groundswell of impatience at lost opportunities is rising from the LGBT ranks.

"He talks a good game," said Silver, a freelance journalist who helped found the Kansas Equality Coalition. "But he's been so politically timid. ... The anger in that community has been growing for months."

Much of the anger centers on a June 11 Justice Department brief seeking to dismiss a constitutional challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

The law, limiting federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex couples, is the target of a federal lawsuit in California. Justice spokesman Charles Miller said that as attorneys for the government "we have to defend that law" when it's taken to court. "It's Congress' job" to change or chuck it if Congress sees fit.

The government's brief outlined a defense seen by gay-rights advocates as unnecessarily vigorous. "DOMA does not restrict any rights that have been recognized as fundamental," it stated.

"That just went too far," said Missouri Sen. Jolie Justus, a Democrat who recently seized upon Iowa's same-sex marriage law to wed her partner in Iowa City.

The brief went on to point out that incestuous relationships, too, were outside states' legal purview of marriage - as if to lump uncle-niece pairings with same-sex couples.

"The government could have defended DOMA without using the red herrings and insulting arguments that once were used to stop interracial marriages," Justus said. "We've been talking about this constantly ... a slap in the face," though she said she expected Obama to press his pledge to undo the law in time.

Advocates of change note that same-sex companions are turned away from their loved ones' deathbeds.

Surviving partners can't collect the Social Security benefits of the deceased. Immigration and naturalization laws that allow heterosexual couples from different countries to unite don't apply to same-sex couples.

Although Obama did not support gay marriage during his campaign, he called for "federal recognition" of same-sex unions so those partners would qualify for benefits accorded married couples.

Perhaps in response to the growing clamor, the president last week unexpectedly issued a memo extending certain federal employee benefits to same-sex partners. Advocacy groups cheered until they learned health benefits were not included.

The president's hesitation to push for an end to the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has widened the divide, especially after the handling of Pietrangelo v. Gates.

The case, brought by James Pietrangelo, an infantry officer who was preparing for his third tour in Iraq when he was discharged for being gay, reached the U.S. Supreme Court - where the Obama administration urged that it not be heard.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the administration's lawyer before the court, said in her filing that the ban is "rationally related to the government's legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion."

Days earlier, however, in the wake of Rep. John McHugh's nomination to be secretary of the Army, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said McHugh shares Obama's commitment to repealing the ban, which isn't "working for this country right now."

After his lawsuit was disposed of, Pietrangelo called the president "a coward, a bigot and a pathological liar ... who spent more time picking out his dog, Bo ... than he has working for equality for gay people."

More than 250 lesbian and gay members of the military have been booted out since Obama took office.

Some are calling on the president to issue a "stop-loss" order rescinding the policy to prevent wartime units from shrinking.

"It's clear he doesn't want to deal with ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' because of the hot potato it became early in Clinton's presidency," said Jim MacDonald, president of the Four Freedoms Democratic Club of Kansas City. "But I think he underestimates the views of the American people."

Polls suggest upwards of eight of every 10 Americans support the right of gays to serve their country, especially in wartime.

Obama has asked for a consensus from top Pentagon advisors before fulfilling his campaign promise.

Silver, in a telephone interview, said she and the families of same-sex couples have waited long enough.

Their options? One is to "just shut your wallets" when Democratic fundraisers come calling, she said.

"The GAY-TM is closed."

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