Thursday, June 18, 2009

It’s The Least He Can Do

President Obama signed a memorandum that grants benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. But it excludes health insurance and Social Security, and that has left some people unhappy.

“I think it’s insulting,” David Mixner, a prominent gay rights advocate, said of the new benefits plan. “Without minimizing how it will improve lives to some extent, what they said to us today is we will give you family leave, some things like that, but the most important thing, health care, we’re not giving you.”

Mr. Mixner announced earlier this week that he was boycotting a coming fund-raiser being hosted by the Democratic Party’s gay and lesbian committee and featuring Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. because of what he considers the administration’s inaction on gay issues, and he said the president’s memorandum had not changed his mind.

Speaking from the Oval Office on Wednesday, Mr. Obama said the memorandum — which represents his interpretation of existing law — represented just a start. “This is only one step,” Mr. Obama said. “Unfortunately, my administration is not authorized by existing federal law to provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.”

Mr. Obama said he would indeed work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, calling it “discriminatory.” He also announced his support for legislation that would extend full health care benefits to federal workers, a measure whose sponsors include Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Representative Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, both of whom stood behind the president Wednesday afternoon.

I appreciate the fact that the administration is willing to take this step — it would be highly unlikely that it would have happened under a Republican president — but it’s still a small step, and the proof will be if the president actually puts some action, like really working to repeal the odious Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, behind the rhetoric. As it stands now, having some benefits is not the same as all benefits, and all we’re asking is that we get the same treatment as everyone else.