Obama and the Gays: The Ruthless 6 Part Strategy? UPDATED 7pm

07/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The President just signed the memorandum discussed below, and the event was televised.

President Obama said that the memorandum "paves the way for long overdue progress in our nation's pursuit of equality" and affirmed his commitment to the repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act:

    It's a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step.  Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.  I believe it's discriminatory, I think it interferes with states' rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it.

     We've got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally; to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms; and to bring about that more perfect union.  I'm committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come. 

Thank you, President Obama, for openly expressing, as President rather than a candidate, your support for repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and for working to address the varied civil rights concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans and our families.

These were the right words, at the right time. And we'll continue to do our part to hold you accountable for the actions they promise.

Here is the memorandum in its entirety:


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 17, 2009

June 17, 2009


SUBJECT: Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination

Millions of hard-working, dedicated, and patriotic public
servants are employed by the Federal Government as part of the
civilian workforce, and many of these devoted Americans have
same-sex domestic partners. Leading companies in the private
sector are free to provide to same-sex domestic partners the
same benefits they provide to married people of the opposite sex.
Executive departments and agencies, however, may only provide
benefits on that basis if they have legal authorization to do so.
My Administration is not authorized by Federal law to extend a
number of available Federal benefits to the same-sex partners
of Federal employees. Within existing law, however, my
Administration, in consultation with the Secretary of State,
who oversees our Foreign Service employees, and the Director of
the Office of Personnel Management, who oversees human resource
management for our civil service employees, has identified areas
in which statutory authority exists to achieve greater equality
for the Federal workforce through extension to same-sex domestic
partners of benefits currently available to married people of the
opposite sex. Extending available benefits will help the Federal
Government compete with the private sector to recruit and retain
the best and the brightest employees.

I hereby request the following:

Section 1. Extension of Identified Benefits. The Secretary of
State and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management
shall, in consultation with the Department of Justice, extend the
benefits they have respectively identified to qualified same-sex
domestic partners of Federal employees where doing so can be
achieved and is consistent with Federal law.

Sec. 2. Review of Governmentwide Benefits. The heads of all
other executive departments and agencies, in consultation with
the Office of Personnel Management, shall conduct a review of the
benefits provided by their respective departments and agencies to
determine what authority they have to extend such benefits to
same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees. The results of
this review shall be reported within 90 days to the Director of
the Office of Personnel Management, who, in consultation with the
Department of Justice, shall recommend to me any additional
measures that can be taken, consistent with existing law, to
provide benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal
Government employees.



Sec. 3. Promoting Compliance with Existing Law Requiring Federal
Workplaces to be Free of Discrimination Based on Non-Merit
Factors. The Office of Personnel Management shall issue guidance
within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies
regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil
service laws, rules, and regulations, including 5 U.S.C.
2302(b)(10), which make it unlawful to discriminate against
Federal employees or applicants for Federal employment on
the basis of factors not related to job performance.

Sec. 4. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this memorandum
shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) Authority granted by law or Executive Order to an
agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) Functions of the Director of the Office of Management
and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative

(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with
applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any
right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law
or in equity by any party against the United States, its
departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or
agents, or any other person.

Sec. 5. Publication. The Director of the Office of Personnel
Management is hereby authorized and directed to publish this
memorandum in the Federal Register.


# # #


In advance of the meeting during which the presidential memorandum discussed below will be signed, I participated in a conference call with Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry to clarify issues around the memorandum and its contents. Highlights of the call included:

* Explicit confirmation that President Obama supports the repeal of DOMA and will sign legislation to that effect if it makes it to his desk. He declined to give a time line for such action saying,"When you have 218 votes in Congress and 60 in the Senate, that's your timeline."

* When questioned about whether or not this memorandum was, in fact, just giving federal employees rights and benefits they already have as a result of activities under the Clinton administrations, he said that the difference was that, "Federal employees will no longer have to rely on an enlightened supervisor" to access the benefits, but rather that, "The President is conferring a mandatory legal right" to receive these benefits.

* He also confirmed that, due to the limitations set forth by DOMA, the benefits addressed by the memorandum will NOT include health care or retirement benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees.

I will update further following the ceremony and President Obama's remarks.


As a supporter of President Obama, I am continuing my efforts to do as he asked and hold him accountable for his campaign promises now that he is president. Accordingly, I'll be listening very carefully to the context in which President Obama places his signing of a presidential memorandum regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans.

Yesterday, the Administration announced that the President will be signing a memorandum today that extends benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. However, given the restrictions imposed by the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), it is unclear just what those benefits will actually entail. Some have theorized that DOMA will make it impossible for the benefits to include health care for same-sex partners - especially (and ironically) those partners who are legally joined in marriage or civil unions at a state level.

Some pundits have argued that the signing of the memorandum is in response to the justifiable outrage over the Department of Justice's issuance of a dehumanizing brief defending DOMA earlier this week. As gratifying as that idea might be, I have to respectfully disagree. It appears that this memo has been in the works for quite a while.

In fact, this might even be a part of a larger strategy by the Administration to triangulate two different constituencies - thereby appearing to be concerned about all while satisfying none.

This is how such a strategy works:

1. The repeal of DOMA is quietly removed from the official White House website, which is followed by assurances by the Administration that this does not have policy implications but is rather a streamlining of the language.
2. A carefully-worded proclamation is issued in recognition of LGBT Pride Month that appears at first to be glowing but in which there is NO mention of Obama's campaign promise to repeal DOMA and which actually contains VERY different (and less supportive) language from a previous statement issued by Senator and then candidate Obama the year before.
3. There is outrage by the extreme right wing (you can google this yourself - I am not going to reprint any of their diatribes here).
4. A brief is issued defending DOMA which contains completely unnecessary and offensive language and arguments, despite the Administration's claims to the contrary.
5. Understandable and expected outrage follows from the LGBT community in response to having our relationships compared to incestuous ones and the like.
6. The Administration announces the signing of a presidential memorandum giving limited benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees (benefits that are limited by the very DOMA that the DOJ is busy defending).

Welcome to politics. It's not for the faint of heart.

The take-away here is yet to be determined. Right now it looks like the benefits given are important but are limited and will probably NOT include either health care OR pension benefits (the ability of a same-sex partner or spouse to receive the pension upon the death of their partner) - which are arguably two of the most important benefits in question.

However, I'd like to return to the point that I made in my previous piece on Obama and the Gays, which is that a visible platform like this is an ideal opportunity for the President to make incremental yet powerful changes in how he talks about LGBT Americans and our loved ones.

This evening, when President Obama signs this memorandum, I will be listening for him to strongly convey the humanity of LGBT people, our relationships and our families. I will be listening for him to begin to lay the groundwork for making the case that the limitations imposed by DOMA are not only unfair but that they are in violation of the very ideals upon which our nation was founded. This is not about President Obama's personal feelings or purported religious beliefs about marriage - this is about the right of couples who are married at a state level to have those marriages recognized at a federal level. It is about the President's responsibility to state clearly that equal protection for all means for just what it says.

This is an opportunity for President Obama to seize - or not to seize, as the case may be. We'll see. I'll update this piece later today to let you know what I hear.