No one reading my columns here and knowing my view of LGBT rights in the Obama era will mistake me for a dewy-eyed optimist. At the same time, however, the prediction that "Obama does nada on gay rights" in 2010 is beyond bold and moves into the realm of just plain silly.
There won't be as much progress as progressives, including myself, would like, that's for sure. That's why we're called progressives. To say that there will be none, however, has a certain quality of sheer spite to it. There is movement on important LGBT rights issues that will continue into 2010 and could result in some important victories. Such victories are by no means assured, but despair is the enemy of victory.
Why would Newsweek, which has run many stories strongly sympathetic to LGBT rights, make such a wrong-headed and defeatist prediction? Anyone with any experience in legislative work knows that there are many ups-and-downs in a legislative campaign. Witness the health-care reform effort, in which the reform advocates have just pulled a health-care rabbit out of a Senatorial hat after weeks and months of moaning about the intransigence of the Senate. Admittedly, it's a sickly heath-care rabbit, and in dire need of a Medicare card, which it's not going to get, but a rabbit is a rabbit.
Have the journalists at Newsweek, hard-headed veterans of the ups-and-downs of many legislative campaigns, been assimilated by the Borg? In a word, yes. If you believe Newsweek, resistance is futile. Let me just say one thing: do not drink the kool-aid.
Here's the reasoning behind the prediction (emphasis added):
Patience became the 2009 mantra of the gay rights movement, which generally supports Democrats. Many activists believe that in his heart Obama supports their flagship issues: the ability to serve openly in the armed forces, to be protected from employment in the workplace, and the right to marry (even though he's on record as favoring civil unions over marriage).
But they've received almost nothing for their troubles. What the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community has learned this year is that the president is ultimately a pragmatist. Although his very presence in the White House is the stuff of culture wars, Obama himself is reluctant to wade into one. Moreover, if socially divisive policies have the potential to compromise his legislative agenda, Obama has proven that he simply won't pursue them. Expect this tension to become more acute as the 2010 elections loom--and for gay rights to be shunted aside again. The last thing this pragmatist president will do is hand election-year ammunition to an already energized conservative base that's venomously opposed to gay marriage.
Do you see it? If you read this upside down and backwards in a mirror, certain codes become clearer. EGAIRRAM. Hmm, egairram, egairram. Why does this sound so familiar? Wait, what's Redrum backwards? Damn, I left my mirror on the set of The Shining.
Newsweek has been assimilated into the quixotic "marriage rights=gay rights" crowd. There are some gay advocates who believe that marriage is the be-all and end all of LGBT rights. From that viewpoint, since Obama is not going to deliver marriage equality in 2010, there will be "nada" on gay rights.
Here's Newsweek's photoessay on "Gay Rights Around The World", two-thirds of which is about marriage. Here's Newsweek's recent interview with Tim Pawlenty, where they ask him about his views on gay rights ("I know you are opposed to gay marriage, but what about medical benefits for same-sex couples?"), and then encourages him to disparage transgender people. Here's their article on "Gay Rights 2.0", which wonders whether ENDA and adoption rights can really be as inspiring as marriage rights. Here's one on "How Getting Married Made Me An Activist" by a Newsweek editor. Here's a Newsweek video that contrasts stuffy old Congressman Barney Frank and HRC head Joe Solmonese by interspersing a fresh-faced young marriage activist saying "if we had marriage first that would help with ENDA and Don't Ask Don't Tell." Then there's "Why You Can't Stop Gay Marriage and Marijuana." And "N.Y. Senate Votes Down Gay Marriage--Time for Federal Action?," a ludicrous idea since the federal government has no power to create marriages, only to give or deny federal benefits.
Wake up, Newsweek! There is a gay agenda, but you seem to be unaware of it. ENDA, which you have largely ignored in your reporting, is next. I know it's not marriage, but for lots of us regular gay folk down here in the trenches, it's what's next.
I agree with Alex Blaze, whose opinion on a recent overwrought "Oh, Where Is The Gay Marriage We Were Promised?" article on CBS mirrors Newsweek's dire predictions. In his marriage-advocate's taxonomy, Newsweek appears to be firmly in the "marriage-focused" category. Actually, my guess is that there is a marriage-focused clique over at Newsweek that's gained the ascendancy, because I have read articles in Newsweek about the importance of other issues in gay rights, so I know there are other, more intelligent opinions in the mix.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of marriage equality. I have a spouse and I have been discriminated against based on marital status. But there are many LGBT people who can't get and keep a decent job. Marriage shouldn't come before that.
If Newsweek's predicting abilities are as bad as their proofreading (it says we're fighting "to be protected from employment in the workplace" at the end of the first paragraph), then I am concerned about the accuracy of this prediction, and, more importantly, its dampening effects as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not saying it's in the bag, mind you, just that we're not out of the race.
I'd also like to note that our legislative agenda is not up to President Obama, though it's going to take work on his part to whip Congress into line. So the "Obama Does Nada" meme makes its sound as if President Obama is sitting there with a big red button on his desk labeled "Press Here For Gay Rights", but he's too busy to push the button. Frankly, Speaker Pelosi's threat that she's going to hold up controversial legislation in a crazy game of chicken with the Senate is much more problematic than anything President Obama is doing or not doing. .
As far as the idea that ENDA definitely won't pass, it's foolhardy. Yes, it's been made more difficult by the foolish delays, and it's going to take a hard push. But the House vote is assured, and the Senate is missing only a few votes. Yes, there is a chance that something unforeseen could happen. But the Newsweek prediction says nothing about that.
DADT repeal, the next item on the agenda, has been promised for 2011, so that's clearly not on the agenda for 2010, though there promises to be much preparation, as there are hearings on the horizon.
So why put up the STOP sign now, Newsweek?
True, DOMA repeal is moving slowly. And the federal government doesn't have jurisdiction over state marriage rights. I suspect that the marriage-focused clique at Newsweek is having a fit of pique over that. But haven't you ever heard that getting controversial legislation passed takes time to build support? That incremental progress is often a better strategy than trying to get everything at once?
Wait..."incrementalism"...where have I heard that before? (Oh, right...I suppose it applies to us but not to them.)