Alex Blaze

Anyone satisfied with half a loaf?

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 17, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, ben smith, DOMA, Family Research Council, federal benefits, gay marriage, LGBT, LGBT families, marriage, marriage equality, tony perkins

Update from after the conference call, with info about DOMA and transgender nondiscrimination. Updates and White House press release after the jump.

Ben Smith is reporting that Obama will be issuing a memorandum to give some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. The general response from gay people has been disappointment - the benefits won't even include health care.

Reacting to a rising tide of anger from gay and lesbian supporters at a series of slights and deferred promises, President Obama will tomorrow extend some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

The move, which begins to mirror the policy of many large corporations, will have an immediate effect for many workers, but it is a deeply reactive response to a core Democratic group whose concerns have been festering for six months. The presidential memorandum -- scheduled for signing tomorrow at 5:45 p.m., may in the short term, give Joe Biden something positive to say at a June 25 fundraiser that has seen prominent guests drop out, a host sharply attack the administration, and which is expected to be marked by protests.

However, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from extending health and retirement benefits to same-sex couples, so the benefits are more likely to be marginal -- like relocation assistance.

Oh! Relocation assistance! Being denied that is really the center of gay oppression.

Well, yes, it's something, but I don't see why they had to wait until June to do this.

The Religious Right is reacting predictably:

FRC: President Obama Violates the Letter If Not the Spirit of DOMA

President Obama's expected Executive Order extending benefits to homosexual partners appears to be a violation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and clearly violates the spirit of the federal law which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. In 1996, DOMA passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate and was then signed by President Clinton.

President Obama's planned Executive Order uses taxpayer money to placate an angry portion of his base at the expense of the rule of law. Ironically, Mr. Obama has pursued an aggressive pro-homosexual agenda - but his actions to date are, apparently, insufficient for the radical homosexuals pushing their extreme demands.

This order raises the question of whether the President has the authority to ignore DOMA and bypass the legislative process. We will review the order and confer with our legal counsel to determine an appropriate response. President Obama is clearly using this executive order to single out a single group for special preferences.

However, beyond the potential legal violations, it's troubling that the President would act in response to homosexual groups which are threatening to withdraw from an upcoming fundraiser. Rather than placing politics above the law, he should abide by the Defense of Marriage Act and fulfill his oath to 'faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.'

Way to get upset, FRC, before Obama's even signed the memo (they didn't even get the fact that it's not an executive order correct). But of course their heads are exploding; they're used to being the vocal, lockstep constituency that gets its way all the time. Maybe the times are changing.

I don't know how far he'll go because of DOMA, which doesn't really give the White House much leeway when it comes to benefits for same-sex partners. I'd expect court cases to come out of this memo from folks like Tony Perkins and the ADF.

Which is why DOMA should just be taken off the table legislatively. No one's going to get around it in the executive and I doubt the courts will repeal it. It's a battle in Congress, and that's the hardest one of all for LGBT issues.

Update: Pat Robertson links relocation benefits to the end of America.

What are the chances someone on the right will take matters in his own hand to prevent America from going into the "garbage heap of history"? Post-Tiller, it seems irresponsible to be making pronouncements like that.

Update 2:

just got off the conference call with the director of the Office of Personnel Management John Berry, who's also openly gay. There was plenty of mainstream media on the line (ABC, USA Today, LA Times), so expect some print and TV coverage of this issue and this memo.

He discussed the memo at some length (press release below) and stressed that this is part of an "internal review" that was conducted at the OPM and at the Department of the State that started at the beginning of the Obama Administration to search for benefits that could be extended to same-sex partners that wouldn't violate DOMA. Lots of benefits will be extended, but not health care and retirement benefits. He said those would require legislative action.

A few interesting points.

First, he was careful to stress that the memo is "not in response to any outside pressure." Berry said that the policy changes took "analysis and care on them" and preparation for the changes has been "underway for many months." In other words, he wanted to make the point clear that the White House was not buckling to pressure exerted this week because of the DOJ DOMA brief. That's fair enough, he was discussing these benefits with the Advocate before the brief came out.

Second, he was asked about the timeline for DOMA, and replied:

Anybody who works in Washington who tells you a specific timeline is kidding you. A timeline is when you get 218 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate.

So, there ya go. No news on when the White House will start lobbying Congress to move on the DOMA, but he mentioned earlier in the conference that while there are enough votes for hate crimes legislation, there aren't enough for DOMA, DADT, and ENDA.

Third, John Aravosis asked him what's actually changing with these guidelines. Federal employment is already supposed to be based on merit, not on factors unrelated to job performance. Aravosis mentioned a woman who worked for the federal government who got leave to take care of her same-sex partner.

Berry responded that previously such benefits to gay employees was "subject to whim of the supervisor." They were optional, and now they'll be mandatory.

Fourth, I got a question in and wanted to know about protections for trans people mentioned in the Advocate. Since Berry mentioned several times that only job-related factors will now be considered in federal employment, and said how sexual orientation isn't included in that several times, I asked if the new directions will specifically mention gender identity, gender expression, and/or transgender people. He responded:

Gender identity is a non-work-related factor, and in the guidelines [to federal agencies] we will be making that clear.[...] Gender identity will be added and made very clear in our guidelines.

That's at least one positive out of this memo: specifically mentioning transgender people when it comes to federal employment.

Berry also acknowledged that this isn't an end:

This is a first step, not a final step. This is an attempt to get our federal house in order. It's an example of practicing before preaching and the administrations is taking bold steps to move forward.

Here's the press release with more details.

Office of the Press Secretary
June 17, 2009

Fact Sheet: Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination

In an Oval Office event later today, President Barack Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination. The Memorandum follows a review by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management ant the Secretary of State regarding what benefits may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees in the civil service and the foreign service within the confines of existing federal laws and statutes.

Over the past several months, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management and the Secretary of State have conducted internal reviews to determine whether the benefits they administer may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees within the confines of existing laws and statutes. Both identified a number of such benefits.

For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children. For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations.

The Presidential Memorandum to be signed today will request that the Director of OPM and the Secretary of State act to extend to same-sex partners of federal employees the benefits they have identified. The Memorandum will also request the heads of all other executive branch departments and agencies to conduct internal reviews to determine whether other benefits they administer might be similarly extended, and to report the results of those reviews to the Director of OPM.

The Memorandum will also direct OPM to issue guidance within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil service laws, which make it unlawful to discriminate against federal employees or applicants for federal employment on the basis of factors not related to job performance.

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This is like your best friend coming up to you on the playground and punching you to the ground and stealing your lunch. Then coming back later with (perhaps) a meek apology and a half-eaten apple as reparation.

The important thing is legislation. What's important right now is passing the hate crimes bill, and ENDA, and the Lieberman bill that does the things we actually want this executive order to do, and then keeping the ball rolling from there. The executive order is definitely better than nothing but by itself it doesn't seem to be much of a practical help. It's PR.

Of course, when I think back on the things the blogosphere has pushed Obama to do this year, I also don't really see what practical help it would have been for Obama to excommunicate Rick Warren, or for Robert GIbbs to make a comment on Rachel Maddow's DADT segments, or for the Obama DOJ to do whatever legally dubious thing it was we wanted them to do different in writing their legal filings in the DOMA case. Basically the blogs have spent all year clamoring for a hollow PR victory and congratulations, now you've got one.

A hollow PR victory?
We got something far more valuable:
An angry LGBT community finally willing to fight back

and getting almost as much air time today on MSNBC as the Iran riots!

Rick Sours | June 17, 2009 2:38 PM

As a retired federal employee, my Partner and I
got nothing. For the record, most supervisor in the federal government already allow individuals to use
their leave to care for their Partners. We both already have long term care insurance.

The most important things are health insurance and
survivor benefits.

We are still second class citizens.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 17, 2009 3:18 PM

These feeble, temporary concessions don't include the military so as not to create any embarrassing problems as Obama continues to robustly enforce Bill Clintons DADT.

They're meant to pacify our communities after the exposure of the Obama Administrations open bigotry in their comments supporting DOMA. That won’t happen. The main effect of these temporary concessions will be to make people angrier (except for a smallish group of flag wavers and those for whom Obama can do no wrong.)

If the Obama administration and the Democrats hadn’t become such openly hostile bigots they’d see that this little sop is actually an embarrassment to them and an insult to our communities. Do they really think we’re that cheap? Evidently they do because there are still Democrats who support them and attack same sex marriage.

It seems evident thought that most people who blundered and voted for Democrats are angry about this one. The Administrations obvious strategy, supported by Congressional Democrats is to ignore us until the next election cycle, when they'll drop us like they did in 2007 and get back to pandering as usual.

With Democrats like this driving the bus who really needs Republicans?

When will those who put their partisanship before the needs of the movement by pushing votes for Obama, McCain and other bigots begin to draw the lessons of their ham-fisted bungling political errors.

How stupid and laughable is the FRC to say, "Ironically, Mr. Obama has pursued an aggressive pro-homosexual agenda." The whole point of this non-event is to try to polish the turd that is the DOJ Brief...which the FRC should be celebrating.

Also, sorry, but unlike you, I'm not buying the idea that this is the end of an on-going review process, and it's only a coincidence they are releasing this executive memorandum today.

The White House doesn't throw on little events like this signing session at the last minute. I'm just not that stupid, and am further insulted that this administration thinks I am.

I don't think that it's a coincidence that it's today. Berry told the advocate over a week ago that these specific changes would happen this month. Hillary clinton was talking about adopting these policies a few months ago. And, as you said, "The White House doesn't throw on little events like this signing session at the last minute."

I really don't think this is a response to the DOJ memo. I'm not convinced that it's enough, but still, it seems rather independent of this past week.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 18, 2009 4:16 AM

Another opinion is that

"This move, however, seems mostly about placating gay-rights advocates who have been angered by 1) the administration's hesitance in overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; 2) its brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama has promised to repeal; and 3) Obama's invitation of Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at the inauguration. In fact, some wealthy gay supporters of Obama have become so mad that they're taking their names off an upcoming Biden fundraiser. Of course, the Obama White House has been very reluctant to get involved in cultural issues, and it seems intent on avoiding all the early mistakes Bill Clinton made (like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"). Yet today's presidential memo is a reactive attempt to quell the anger coming from the gay community. But even the memo doesn't seem to go far enough for gay-rights advocates."

From todays Political Wire

As a transgender woman the memo doesn't even scratch the surface of any of the issues facing our community. In fact it is smaller than a grain of sand on a beach. If Mr. Obama want to stick to his campaign promises, he is going to have to do better than this.

The issue that I feel is more important is the hate crimes legislation facing the Senate, this bill is truly a step in the right direction.

As a transgender woman the memo doesn't even scratch the surface of any of the issues facing our community. In fact it is smaller than a grain of sand on a beach. If Mr. Obama want to stick to his campaign promises, he is going to have to do better than this.

The issue that I feel is more important is the hate crimes legislation facing the Senate, this bill is truly a step in the right direction.