Major Progress on Marriage Equality at the Federal Level

On Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a speech announcing that major improvements have been made in the way that the federal government treats same-sex couples. By executive order of President Obama, “expanded recognition of same-sex marriages in federal legal matters, including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits,” is now federal policy. In a memo sent out to employees, Holder stated that the Justice Department will, “recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, to ensure equal treatment for all members of society regardless of sexual orientation.” To be sure, the fight for marriage equality is not over yet. We must continue fighting for equal marriage rights for all gays and lesbians everywhere in the country. Thirty-three states still prohibit legal marriages for same-sex couples. But the Obama Administration’s recent action represents a major step in the right direction. It is becoming more and more apparent that President Obama’s public stance in favor of favoring gay marriage but wishing to let each state decide whether or not to allow it does not really represent his personal view. Rather, in decision after decision, from his support of the Supreme Court strike down Prop 8, to his executive order recognizing the 13,000 same-sex civil marriages performed in Utah, to his latest executive order on gay rights, President Obama is tacitly making it clear that he favors federal action to nullify state bans on gay marriage. I am reminded of why I love Barack Obama in spite of all of my disagreements with his policies, including the fact that he does not do as much as for gay rights as he should, as fast as he should. He is the first president to treat gay and lesbian Americans as equal to heterosexuals. I think sometimes about how different the pace of progress on gay rights would be if Mitt Romney, the man who favored not only DOMA but an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution, had been elected fifteen months ago. I also think sometimes about how George W. Bush made gay bashing a centerpiece of his administration and how Bill Clinton painted himself as a champion of gay rights while signing blatantly homophobic legislation. (Clinton has apparently seen the error of his ways, and I applaud him for that, but it does not change the fact that his administration was a disaster for gay people.) How glad I am that Barack Obama is president and not one of these three men. I believe that there is a legitimate chance of ENDA and the Respect for Marriage Act (which would repeal what is left of DOMA) passing in the near future. If the Democratic Party can avoid being damaged by misguided health care policies and manage to hold onto the Senate and wrest control of the House away from Republicans, I believe that the Respect for Marriage Act could become the law of the land by the end of next year. I believe that ENDA could be passed by November of this year if John Boehner can be successfully pressured into allowing the bill to be brought up for a vote, as a number of Republicans will cross party lines to vote for it. And we know that Barack Obama will sign both these pieces of legislation. I look forward to the time when all Americans have equal rights and the time when supporting equal rights will not be considered a partisan stance.

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