Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Congress Has a Role to Play, But the White House Needs to Lead on the Issue of GLBT Equality

Part of what we talked about last night when I was on the Inside Scoop was how there are a lot of activists who are disappointed with the way the Obama Administration has been handling gay rights. He ran on a promise of change, which included doing things such as repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell which prevents members of the LGBT community from serving in the military and passing an inclusive Employee Non Discrimination Act, which would prevent people from getting fired based solely upon their sexual orientation or gender identity. While he's continued to express his support for these actions, I took the opportunity last night to express my belief that Obama isn't moving quickly enough on these issues.

Some of the other panelists thought that he was doing what he could to address the issue and were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was also mentioned that legislation needs to be passed on these issues as Obama cannot do these things by executive order. Therefore, Congress has an important role to play in the struggle for gay rights. Based upon an editorial in today's Washington Post, it appears as though the other panelists weren't alone in thinking that Obama was taking too much heat and more pressure needed to be put on Congress.
Frustration with Mr. Obama and the lack of progress in fulfilling his pledges on gay rights were evident at Sunday's National Equality March. But why is he the only target? Overturning "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA require legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have been content to sit on the sidelines while Mr. Obama takes the hits. This can't continue. Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid must exert the necessary leadership in their respective chambers to pass bills the president has promised to sign. Until then, they deserve as much criticism and blame as Mr. Obama for impeding the long march to equality.
Now I agree that it's important for people who support equality to put pressure on Congress. Congress, after all, does have a role to play in the process. But as I said last night on the Inside Scoop, Obama has something that members of Congress don't -- the bully pulpit of the presidency. Obama could help move the issues forward if they truly were a priority for the White House. Harry Reid even seems to realize that he could use some more help on the issue from the President as the Majority Leader sent a letter to Obama and Secretary Gates asking for a position on how to move regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell. While we need more action than a simple letter from Congress, the move clearly indicated that the Senate wants Obama to take a lead on the issue.

We've all seen how health care legislation ran into problem after problem when Obama simply handed the situation over to Congress. When we're talking about basic human rights we cannot afford to allow a repeat of that situation -- especially when this time around the Senate Majority Leader has already called for Obama to take a more prominent role in moving forward. That is why I felt it was important to express my disappointment with the President while I was on the Inside Scoop last night. It's great that he's willing to engage in a dialogue with supporters of equality and Congress definitely needs to feel some pressure too, but the White House needs to take leadership on the issue of equality. It's simply the right thing to do.

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