Eye Opener: Obama's Same-Sex Benefits Gamble
Happy Thursday! President Obama's decision to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is steeped in all sorts of controversy: Some say he went too far, others suggest not far enough.
"The gay political agenda has proved to be a challenge for Obama, who since taking office has tried to drain the ideological fervor from the most divisive foreign and domestic policy debates," The Post's Scott Wilson reports today. "That agenda comprises a set of social and economic issues that at times pit Obama's religious beliefs and centrist instincts against the demands of a well-organized constituency important to his future electoral prospects."
"Obama's memorandum, designed to be both incremental and pragmatic, typifies the cautious way he has approached gay issues since taking office five months ago. Although he has appointed gays to prominent positions in his administration -- including John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management -- the memorandum marked his first official foray into the issue as president, a delay that has angered gay supporters.
"The package of domestic partnership benefits that President Obama established for federal workers on Wednesday drew the loudest protests from some of those it was intended to help, gay men and lesbians who criticized the move as too timid," writes Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times.
"Their outcry put the administration on the defensive for an action it had hoped would help address increasing complaints from gay activists who supported Mr. Obama’s election but now say he is ignoring the issues he promised to address, like a repeal of the 'don’t ask, don’t tell' policy on gay men and lesbians in the military. And it has tested the balance the administration has tried to strike between avoiding hot-button cultural issues that could distract it from pushing its ambitious economic agenda and avoiding angering key liberal constituencies that expect Mr. Obama to make good on campaign promises."
Still, as Alyssa Rosenberg of Government Executive notes today that Obama supports legislation that would grant full benefits to same-sex partners.
"The legislation, known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517) is currently under consideration on Capitol Hill.
"'Extending equal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is the right thing to do,' Obama said. 'It is also sound economic policy. Many top employers in the private sector already offer benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees; those companies recognize that offering partner benefits helps them compete for and retain the brightest and most talented employees. The federal government is at a disadvantage on that score right now, and change is long overdue.'"
Not everyone is upset: Jamie Price, a lawyer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told The Post's Steve Vogel she hopes Obama's decision will help gay employees feel more comfortable in the federal workforce. "Most gays and lesbians tend to keep a low profile," she said. "We stay out of the office coffee pot conversations about what you did over the weekend. We don't feel we can or should contribute." Obama's action "may help younger workers feel they can be open," Price added.
But gay fundraiser and activist David Mixner summed it up for those wanting more, telling Politico: "Are they kidding us? Domestic partnership benefits WITHOUT health insurance because of [Defense of Marriage Act]?” ... “It is like rubbing salt in the wound."
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