On Stonewall Anniversary, Appreciating History Already Made
Many gay and lesbian activists are impatient for President Obama to make history on their behalf. They want him to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military and to repeal the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And no doubt many of the 300 guests invited to the White House’s Stonewall commemoration today let the president know that they are frustrated with the pace of the change he promised.
But while activists are right to press Obama on pledges not yet fulfilled, the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots offers a moment to reflect on the history that has already been made. Just think: Forty years after outcast gay men and drag kings and queens confronted abusive New York City police officers, leaders of the gay rights movement were welcomed to the White House by a presidential administration with a record number of openly gay appointees. Nearly 17 years after then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was reportedly coerced into saying "gays" in his Democratic nomination acceptance speech, we have a president who willingly talked about gay issues to non-gay audiences on the campaign trail. Nine years after then-Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.) ushered "civil unions" into the national political lexicon, six states (five of them, including Vermont, since Obama became president) have legalized same-sex marriage. There are a slew of gains, big and small, national and local, that ought to be celebrated -- not derided as "crumbs" or too little too late.
Does that mean gays and lesbians should be satisfied? Absolutely not. But activists would do well to direct their frustration to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and to focus on the question of why there appears to be no appetite for sending pro-gay bills to a president willing to sign them.
Take Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). When asked at a June 15 press conference whether he would move on legislation to repeal "don't ask don't tell," Reid initially said, "I haven't identified any sponsors." He added that he would rather Obama take care of it administratively by issuing a stop-loss order or commanding the Pentagon to change departmental rules. With regard to a pending bill in the House, Reid said, "If the House moves on this, I would be happy to take it up." Reid's a real profile in courage. And since everyone seems to be keeping score, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been noticeably mute on gay issues this month.
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