State Dept. policy change the latest gay rights win
The State Department's recent decision to make passport applications more gender neutral is the latest in a series of victories for gay rights organizations pushing to change several elements of federal policy considered unfavorable to gay Americans.
The change - unveiled quietly in late December and widely reported over the weekend - came quietly on the same day that President Obama gathered with gay rights advocates to sign legislation ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a well-publicized and symbolic moment in the decades-long gay rights movement.
Amid the news reports and potential political backlash from conservatives, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pulled back Saturday, deciding that the forms required for first-time passport applicants younger than 16 will retain "Mother" and "Father," but ask instead for the names of a child's "Mother or Parent 1" and "Father or Parent 2" - a more gender neutral reference sought by gay rights groups on behalf of same-sex parents.
Though it's a move steeped in bureaucratic minutia, the tweak to passport application forms means gay rights organizations can cross another item off a list of proposed changes -- called a "Blueprint for Positive Change" by some groups -- presented to Obama aides during the 2008 presidential transition as a series of changes that could be made through executive action without congressional approval, according to gay rights leaders familiar with the proposals.
After intense lobbying by gay groups, the administration is now studying the impact of housing discrimination against gays and lesbians, planning to count same-sex marriages in the 2020 Census and Obama is pushing for legislation that grants full benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees after extending some fringe benefits to them.
The Pentagon is also moving fast to end the 17-year ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in uniform, a move requiring legislation that earned strong White House support.
But several items remain: Advocates want the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure appropriate protections to gay and lesbian people and their children during disaster relief efforts and are calling on the Transportation Security Administration to draft non-discriminatory policies addressing the treatment of transgender air passengers.
The change in State Department policy was well-known last month by some gay leaders, who decided to keep quiet in order to focus attention on the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," according to advocates not authorized to speak on the record.
The changes reflect "recognition of different types of families," the State Department said, a sentiment echoed by gay leaders.
"The government is finally recognizing the reality that many children are being raised by same-sex parents," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, a group that helped push for the change. "This is just one form, but there are hundreds of government forms that need to be changed to reflect the realities of the modern family."
Gay rights leaders also want to see "Parent 1" and "Parent 2" on other federal health and housing forms, changes that would be "nothing more than the recognition of reality," said Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization with close ties to the Obama White House.
But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the changes "clearly designed to advance the causes of same-sex 'marriage' and homosexual parenting without statutory authority." He called on Congress to intervene.
"I don't think this is the kind of decision that makes or breaks a civilization, but I don't want to underestimate what it means symbolically," said Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a popular evangelical commentator. "It's further evidence of the loss of a commitment to the natural family that will come with very serious consequences for the culture."
"There are relationships that are immediately implied by mother and father that aren't implied by Parent 1 and Parent 2," Mohler said. "It's not just a change to more bureaucratic language, it's a redefinition of the relationship."
The nation remains closely divided on the issue of gay rights: 40 percent of respondents described themselves as a "gay rights supporter" in a June survey by the Pew Research Center. Fifty-six percent of voters believed homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted; 33 percent believe it should be discouraged, according to a November poll by Democracy Corps. Support for homosexuality has climbed steadily since the 1990s, according to several surveys.
Polling analyst Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report
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| January 11, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Administration, Eye Opener
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