Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Politics, Money Makes All the Difference

It has been remarkable following gay rights issues in Washington over the past 48 hours. The White House has announced that President Obama will be signing an executive order sometime today to extend federal employee benefits to same-sex couples. Yet it all started because of a gay-oriented fundraiser that several gay activists and bloggers became upset about.

It wasn’t long before several prominent gay rights advocates - including a leader from the Human Rights Campaign - pulled out of an Organizing for America fundraiser featuring Vice President Biden because the administration had thus far made no move to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Much of it stems from a Justice Department brief filed in California recently that not only defended DOMA, but drew parallels between the gay marriage case before the court and several possible precedent cases involving incestuous marriages.

From a Politico update yesterday:

"I will not attend a fundraiser for the National Democratic Party in Washington next week when the current administration is responsible for these kind of actions," [activist David] Mixner wrote of a motion to dismiss a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act that drew a parallel between same-sex marriage to incestuous marriage. "How will they ever take us seriously if we keep forking out money while they harm us? For now on, my money is going to battles within the community such as the fight in Maine or the March on Washington! I am so tired of being told by Democratic operatives to 'suck it up' because so many other profound issues are at stake."

It was a good idea - not only is the LGBT community a critical base of support for Democrats, but they are a generally wealthy one.

Suddenly the Obama folks were caught off guard. DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias, scrambling to come up with a quick response, could only say “If this debacle of a brief represented the president's views, I'd boycott too,” and then sent an email that not only said “So...counterintuitive as it may feel at this moment...come to DC for our dinner June 25, and hear what the Vice President of the United States has to say as he joins Governor Kaine and Governor Dean and Barney Frank and others in celebrating Gay Pride” but also reassured the recipients that there would be protesters outside the event!

Finally - out of nowhere - the White House made it clear last night that Obama would introduce basic benefits of domestic partnerships to LGBT federal employees.

Of course, the benefits cannot include some health and pension benefits due to DOMA restrictions - which the White House says Obama wants Congress to overturn - and so the decision received mixed reactions.

Now, this is not to say that the decision to create domestic partnerships for federal employees was based solely on dollars and cents. It is certainly the President’s wish to extend gay rights, and we can expect a move on issues such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and repealing DOMA in the future.

But the fact that the economy, health care, and other issues have been priorities (that could be derailed if the administration was to upset the GOP with gay rights issues) has stalled the President from making this move so far.

It looks like this serious uproar from gay rights advocates (and more importantly, donors) just got the ball rolling.

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