The Obama administration, which came to office promising to protect gay rights but so far has not done much, actually struck a blow for the other side last week. It submitted a disturbing brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act,
...The brief insists it is reasonable for states to favor heterosexual marriages because they are the “traditional and universally recognized form of marriage.” In arguing that other states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages under the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, the Justice Department cites decades-old cases ruling that states do not have to recognize marriages between cousins or an uncle and a niece.
These are comparisons that understandably rankle many gay people....
The brief also maintains that the Defense of Marriage Act represents a “cautious policy of federal neutrality” — an odd assertion since the law clearly discriminates against gay couples. Under the act, same-sex married couples who pay their taxes are ineligible for the sort of federal benefits — such as Social Security survivors’ payments and joint tax returns — that heterosexual married couples receive.....
If the administration does feel compelled to defend the act, it should do so in a less hurtful way. It could have crafted its legal arguments in general terms, as a simple description of where it believes the law now stands. There was no need to resort to specious arguments and inflammatory language to impugn same-sex marriage as an institution....
In times like these, issues like repealing the marriage act can seem like a distraction — or a political liability. But busy calendars and political expediency are no excuse for making one group of Americans wait any longer for equal rights.
Meanwhile, over on Rachel Maddow's show, former DNC chair Howard Dean explains the likely political fallout.
“The language in this brief is really offensive and it really is a terrible mistake,” said Dean. “I doubt very much the president knew this was coming. I don’t think for a minute this represents the president’s position. But he is now going to have to dig himself out of this, because people are really upset about this, not just in the gay and lesbian community, but in the community of people who are interested in equal rights,” he said.
Update: The LA Times joins in
On Sunday, the administration's top-ranking openly gay official offered a less-than-stellar prognosis for gay rights. Obama remains committed to banning employment discrimination against gays, along with repealing the marriage act and "don't ask, don't tell," said John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, and that will happen "before the sun sets on this administration." The implication was that much of this agenda might wait until a second term.
The gap between Obama and gay rights activists appears to be growing. True, the current federal lawsuits against the marriage act and Proposition 8 fail to recognize that a hasty march can be damaging to gay rights. The current composition of the U.S. Supreme Court makes it highly unlikely that such lawsuits will succeed, and adverse decisions could set the same-sex marriage movement back by years. From an ideological viewpoint, gays and lesbians are entitled to their rights now. But well-planned timing gives them the best chance of securing those rights soon. Obama, though, has shown a dishearteningly pragmatic willingness to allow the issue of gay rights to languish. The many Americans who support these rights expect better of him.