An Open Letter to Obama: Gay Equality Needs Your Voice

Dear President Obama:

I am writing to respectfully urge you to bring the energetic moral
vision that you championed as a presidential candidate to the cause of
equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

Among the reasons that millions of people were inspired by your
candidacy was your eloquence on behalf of an America in which everyone
is offered respect and equality under the law. At People For the
American Way, we disagreed with your decision to stop short of
supporting marriage equality, but we welcomed the clarity with which
you articulated the constitutional principle of equality in so many
other areas. That vision energized not only gays and lesbians, but many
other fair-minded Americans who recognize discrimination as a national
moral failing, who view equality under the law as a defining part of
the American Way, and who believe the country is ready to discard
discrimination based on bigotries that should be left in our past. That
vision would be even more powerful coming from you as president, but
since your election we have heard very little.

Any reasonable person is aware of the extraordinary challenges that
faced the nation as you took office, including a dire financial crisis
that has cost millions of Americans their jobs, homes, and access to
health care. You have not shied from these most daunting of challenges.
But it seems that you have shied from promoting the vision of equality
that you articulated during your campaign.

Legislative change is needed, and we will continue to push Members
of Congress and the Democratic leadership to move forward to end
discrimination against LGBT Americans even as they grapple with other
urgent national priorities. We are counting on you to call for and help
win passage of legislation that you pledged to support.

As importantly, Mr. President, you are uniquely capable of
communicating to the American public the moral and constitutional
values at stake in ending discrimination against gay Americans. Beyond
the clear harm to gay and lesbian Americans, the lack of your
leadership on these issues damages both America's sense of fairness and
the credibility of your administration.

Your recent action to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners
of federal employees, and your statement from the Oval Office
committing yourself to work tirelessly toward equality, could have been
the kind of moment that was celebrated as a milestone on the march
toward equality. But instead it had the feel of, and was reported as,
an incremental half-measure rushed onto the stage to placate a
discontented political constituency.

While your comments in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act at
the recent signing ceremony were welcome, they would have carried more
weight as part of a larger ongoing effort to educate the American
public about the moral need for LGBT equality. Moreover, the impact of
your words was blunted coming so soon after your administration's brief
in support of DOMA using arguments that degraded gay and lesbian
couples. You may have felt it was your duty to defend the law, but your
argument that discrimination against same-sex couples doesn't count as
discrimination and citation of case law on incest to claim that
marriages of gay couples are unworthy of legal recognition was beyond
the pale. Americans who support equality would not have been at all
surprised if that brief had been filed by the Bush Administration.
Coming from you, particularly without a broader public affirmation of
your commitment to equality, it had the force of a hard slap in the
face by someone we trusted.

Moreover, in the absence of a stronger statement about the
importance of equality for all Americans, it has been equally difficult
for your supporters to understand the continued discharges under Don't
Ask Don't Tell of service members devoting their lives to our country.
Congress should vote to repeal the destructive law that destroys
military careers and robs the armed forces of highly trained soldiers,
but until that happens, you should use your authority as
commander-in-chief to suspend discharges of these personnel until that
law is changed.

We have seen you change a nation's conversation with an
extraordinarily compelling speech on the issue of race in America. We
have seen you change the perceptions of the world with a historic
speech on history, pluralism, respect, and democracy to the world's
Muslims. We have seen you bring grace and conviction to the debate with
your speech at Notre Dame about preserving a woman's right to choose.

On the question of LGBT equality, it's time to make that speech.

Mr. President, you have the opportunity to be on the right side of
history. Every day, LGBT Americans face discrimination and are being
denied their constitutional rights. There is no one in public life who
could, and based on your stated principles and promises should, do more
to move America forward toward becoming a country in which LGBT people
are respected and treated as fully equal under our Constitution and

We ask for your leadership and voice. When you lead, we will back you with every bit of heart and determination we can muster.


Michael B. Keegan
People For the American Way

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