Friday, March 13, 2009

The First Crack in Taking Down DOMA

A couple of recent court rulings are going to make President Obama live up to his campaign promise to “fight hard” for equal rights for gay couples.

Just seven weeks into office, President Obama is being forced to confront one of the most sensitive social and political issues of the day: whether the government must provide health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers.

But the federal Office of Personnel Management has instructed insurers not to provide the benefits ordered by the judges, citing a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act.

While I can appreciate the political risks from both sides — side with the courts and risk pissing off the right wing; follow DOMA and alienate the LGBT people who helped him win the election — it really shouldn’t be a question of political benefits, even though that’s the way the world works.

Regardless of what President Obama does, it’s a given that he will never mollify the “social conservatives” (i.e. the anti-gay lobby). And since the president has already taken the stand that he’s not in favor of gay marriage, he’s not going to make all of the people in the gay community happy no matter what he does, either. So he might as well go along with the court rulings, using them as the leverage to make the case to Congress to repeal parts if not all of the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was probably the most blatantly bigoted piece of legislation to come out of Congress in the last generation.

In adopting the Defense of Marriage Act, Congress said the government had a legitimate interest in “defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage.”

But Judge Reinhardt said the denial of benefits to same-sex spouses would not encourage gay men and lesbians to marry members of the opposite sex or discourage same-sex marriages.

“So the denial cannot be said to nurture or defend the institution of heterosexual marriage,” the judge wrote.

Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values, a conservative advocacy group, said that if Mr. Obama extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers, he would “provoke a furious grass-roots reaction, reinvigorate the conservative coalition and undermine his efforts to portray himself as a moderate on social issues.”

Oh, how frightening to be threatened with a hissy-fit from Gary Bauer. If anything, that kind of bleating from that sanctimonious twerp confirms that extending benefits to same-sex partners is exactly the right thing to do.