BY Kerry Eleveld
December 30 2009 1:30 PM ET
In assessing the year in LGBT rights, what is most striking to me is the Obama administration’s unwillingness to engage on almost anything related to relationship recognition. Time and again, the administration has had opportunities to lean into the subject, to nudge the nation a little closer to equality for same-sex couples, and it has repeatedly leaned back, seemingly hoping the subject would disappear into the ether.
The first instance came in April just after the Iowa Supreme Court issued its historic ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, sanctifying the love of gay Americans in the nation’s heartland.
That day, the White House issued a statement that read like the administration was being forced to swallow a bitter pill and reminded the nation that the president does not believe the love shared by same-sex couples is worthy of the institution of marriage.
"The President respects the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage,” read the statement. “Although President Obama supports civil unions rather than same-sex marriage, he believes that committed gay and lesbian couples should receive equal rights under the law."
A couple months later came the now infamous Department of Justice brief defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act with language that set the LGBT blogosphere on fire. Some activists condemned the administration for even defending a law they deemed unconstitutional (Obama did, after all, teach constitutional law), but the administration’s defense itself also stoked a visceral reaction from the LGBT community for including arguments such as the citation of rulings involving incest and pedophilia to support their case.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s concede that Justice is simply doing what is incumbent upon on it – defending the laws passed by Congress. The day that brief was released, a former solicitor general told me on background that legal briefs with sticky political implications are routinely reviewed by White House officials before DOJ releases them. What that indicates given the way the first DOMA brief read is that it either wasn’t analyzed by White House staff for political fallout, or the person who did examine it wasn’t sufficiently sensitized to the issues to know what would inflame the community.
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