Obama’s Gay-Benefits ‘Conundrum’


Today the Times reports that President Obama is being put in a tough spot over same-sex spousal benefits for employees who work for the federal government. Two federal judges (one conservative, one liberal) in California ruled that employees were owed those rights, but the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, citing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, ordered insurers not to extend benefits. "A bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot provide a rational basis for governmental discrimination," liberal Judge Stephen Reinhardt protested. According to the Times:

Now, Mr. Obama is in a tough spot. If he supports the personnel office on denying benefits to the San Francisco court employees, he risks agitating liberal groups that helped him win election. If he supports the judges and challenges the marriage act, he risks alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters.

Sorry, what? Obama barely pantomimed an effort to get Republicans onboard with his stimulus plan and then ignored them wholeheartedly ever since. He's supposed to get worried about what they think of this tiny issue?

According to a former Clinton adviser on gay issues, Obama "has broad discretionary authority to find ways to ameliorate some of the more blatant examples of discrimination." Remember when David Paterson ordered state agencies to recognize out-of-state gay marriages?

Of course, the Times didn't have to look far to find a conservative who was hysterical about this business:

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."

Getting past the obvious problems here (in times when people's homes are being foreclosed by the thousands and jobs are being lost by the millions, you think people are going to get mad that a few people in California are getting benefits packages? This isn't gay marriage we're talking about, it's a basic need that is on everyone in this country's mind at the moment), let's remind ourselves of one thing: Obama was never a moderate on social issues. He's a progressive on social issues. That's what Republicans have been saying this whole time — don't they listen to one another? His progressivism, in fact, is only really tempered by the fact that he opposes full, federalized marriage equality. If Obama supports benefits for partners of federal employees, it will shock no one. And it most certainly won't be the straw that makes Mitch McConnell think, "Hey, we can't work with this guy now."

This is an example of the Times giving an opposing position merit merely because there is some crackpot out there to voice it. What the paper should have done was put quotes around the name of Gary L. Bauer's advocacy agency. Because at a point in our nation's history when unemployment is at its highest in over two decades, no group who is fighting against the right for people to have benefits can legitimately say they are in support of "American Values."

Obama Is on the Spot as Rulings Aid Gay Partners [NYT]