The very day the New York Times editorial board took the president to task for comparing same-sex marriage to incest in a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act, and months after LGBT activists began voicing skepticism that he would live up to his campaign pledges on gay rights, Barack Obama announced that his administration would extend some benefits to domestic partners of federal employees. Many large corporations already do so as a matter of standard practice, but it is a notable move for the federal government, which as recently as March was defending its policy of not extending benefits in court. The move is largely symbolic — according to the Advocate, DOMA prevents health-and-retirement benefits from being extended nationally to same-sex couples, so the rights will be limited to things like relocation assistance. New York's own Alan van Cappelle, head of the Empire State Pride Agenda, reacted to the news with scorn. "Welcome to 1999," he told Politico. "How revolutionary of the White House to give benefits to same-sex couples, when two-thirds of conservative Wall Street are already doing it. What an achievement ... It's just one of the things that should have been done in January." For the move to really mean anything, DOMA will have to be addressed. And, of course, this benefits policy does not extend to military employees, because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Both DOMA and DADT are policies Obama promised to abolish during the campaign, but he has yet to move to do so. Even though this presidential memorandum will help many same-sex couples, it serves also to create even more exceptions to even more rules — another Obama punt on gay rights.
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