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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.

By Jonathan Capehart  | June 29, 2009; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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So how, exactly, do we define, "fierce advocate?"

This administration is hunky dory with an offensive DOJ brief. A-OK with expelling over 200 gay/lesbian soldiers. And just dandy with pointing at the "other end of Pennsylvania Avenue," but not the least bit interested in using any tools in their own toolbox to make a difference.

Sorry Jonathan... the trend seems to indicate that you'd rather be an apologist for this administration than an aggressive journalist interested in truth, justice and the American way.

Posted by: pacnwjay | June 29, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Whatup J! Go Carleton College.

Posted by: Urnesto | June 29, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

the gay community needs to get its panties out of a bunch about this DOMA DOJ brief. the brief was legally sound on all fronts. i understand that liberals in general think judges should give them all the rights that they believe legislatures have ruthlessly witheld from them (or so the theory goes) but i think obama favors a more legislative approach.

moreover, obama does not endorse gay marriage, he and biden said it again and again during the debates. heck, sarah palin and joe biden's answer the gay answer question during the debates were essentially identical.

im not sure where gay people came away with the notion that obama has promised them things the same way he promised, say, the unions, something.

he expressly did the exact opposite. you may have thought he was coveering his ass, but that was your calculation, not his.

Posted by: dummypants | June 29, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Gotta get a dig in at Bill Clinton, eh? Can't resist maligning them, ever.

And more lip service from Obama means ALL is ABSOLVED when it comes to the Chosen One.

What a laugh.

Posted by: Seth27 | June 29, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Yo dummypants... how is it legally sound to compare gay marriage to bestiality?

Nobody's forced to like gays but come ON. That kind of thing is totally unnecessary. I might have expected it from a right-wing wacko Limbaugh or Hannity but the Obama administration?

Posted by: jamshark70 | June 29, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Has any state other than Vermont legalized gay marriage through the normal legislative channels? A tip of the cap to them, but in order to establish rights, one either has to appeal to the "Creator" or to the will of the people. A judicial end run around the difficult legislative process is no way to establish legitimate rights.

Posted by: edbyronadams | June 29, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

The current stand being taken by the Congress of the United States is an improvement on the opportunities neglected by this same group only a few years ago. Did they not turn down scores of opportunities to outlaw lynching? Was not this murderous after church activity of white groups officially frowned upon in the early second half of the twentieth century? They send youth to war in a thoughtless heartbeat....our youth more than theirs. Yet they are scared out of their wits to correct wrongs being done to very productive members of this society. The Bible, a third century writing with many other assertions in the Old Testament that are also wrong is used as a reason for their cowering. Yet we call them leaders. They once used the same book to justify stands against another racial group and to women.

Posted by: Draesop | June 29, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

The gay "community will get its panties out of a bunch", when America gets their heads out of their butts. The Fort Worth, Texas police conducted a raid on a gay bar on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall... How ironic or should I say moronic was that? This issue WILL not go away so all you better get use to it..

Posted by: 1kennedy1 | June 30, 2009 1:06 AM | Report abuse

Jonathan put your knee pads away. You and your best bud Obama are just conning gays so they wil donate more money to Bammy campaign. If he throws out a few crumbs all will be well. What a joke. He is rushing to pass all kinds of legislation so why not a bill to benefit gays ? Why the wait?? You Sir- make all kinds of excuses for him - is it because he is black or what? The media put him in office and they are still salivating over him.

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | June 30, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Obama has simply taken the Democratic Party process of "conning" gays to the next level. Just as the "Party" has kept the minorities they so actively recruit in a position where they have to rely on them for support. The Democrats are a group of elitist who truly believe they are the intelligency destine to rule the US because they, and only they, know the way. That's why although socialism has failed time and time again they believe it is only because they weren't in charge. So here they are keeping the "masses" reliant on their remaining in power. They use them and they will continue to give them a crumb here and a crumb there so they can get their money and their votes.

Posted by: staterighter | June 30, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

No, No, No. No homosexuals in the military, their conduct is NOT acceptable in military culture. No homosexual marriage, that just degrades marriage in general. Homosexuality is a deviant sexual behavior which needs to be treated, not celebrated, and should be classified as a mental disorder just like pedophilia is. And public displays of homosexual behavior should be re-criminalized, as such conduct leads to the corruption of the nation's youth. If you homosexuals refuse to be treated, then get back in your closets, the rest of us are sick and tired of having to put up with you.

Posted by: mike92 | June 30, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Folks, Mike 92 is not the isolated, bigoted crank we would like to think he is. There are millions of Mike 92s and they vote. Fortunately, their numbers are diminishing, but the diminishment is modestly incremental in many parts of the country. Obama is taking the right tact in demanding that congress and the military play ball on this issue. And he needs us to push like hell. Gay bashing is still considered sport by any number of congresspeople in states one considers blue. We need to put some spine in our friends and the fear of electoral failure in our enemies. Obama is NOT the enemy. Indifference, poor organization and competing agendas within the gay political community are not the president's fault.

Posted by: llfwilliamd | June 30, 2009 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Right, Mike92 -- LGBTs wanting to have committed marriages degrades the "sanctity" of that institution but heterosexual hound dogs like Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer and John Ensign ... um, uphold it? And if you're so worried about "corrupting" youth, you better put your kids in a bubble. People under 40 have had years of experience with real, live LGBTs and guess what -- they haven't grown horns. Capehart, I guess I just disagree with your emphasis. Rarely have civil rights movements grown organically in Congress -- too many parochial concerns and too many elections. Leadership comes from the other end of PA ave. and has been sorely lacking (neither Obama nor Mrs. Clinton had the balls to come out in support of equal marriage rights and many right wingers have hid behind them as justification). The LGBT community couldn't give a damn about the religious aspects of marriage -- it's all about the civil rights. Friends of mine, committed partners for 15 years, had to leave the country for a year because one was a citizen of Ireland and DOMA fails to recognize civil unions as equivalent to "marriage" for immigration. Taxes, custody, visitation in hospitals -- none of this should be controlled by the religious ceremony of marriage. I believe we need to go to the European model -- let that which is Caeser's be rendered to Caeser yadda yadda yadda. Face it -- none of these changes will come without leadership from the White House and this once ardent Obama supporter has closed her wallet and her heart until he begins to demonstrate his "fierce" commitment to ending LGBT second class citizenship.

Posted by: Omyobama | July 1, 2009 2:12 AM | Report abuse

edbyronadams asked: "Has any state other than Vermont legalized gay marriage through the normal legislative channels?"

Yes--Maine and New Hampshire. Connecticut also passed a law codifying their Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling (which they were not required to do). California's legislature voted to legalize gay marriage in 2005, although the governor vetoed the bill.

Posted by: kmr76 | July 1, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

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