Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The Debate Obama is Trying to Avoid
I do understand the sense of betrayal and disgust that many LGBTs feel at the moment. Having been promised a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, only to have it reaffirmed by the Administration, having been promised the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and having been promised wholesale same-sex partner benefits in line with heterosexual couples only to have been given a watered-down version of them are campaign promises broken. LGBTs have a long, frustrating tradition of being promised a feast and being thrown table scraps instead.
Yet, I do have a pragmatic side that prevents me from coming down on the Obama Administration too harshly. I know full well that any major discussion regarding Gay Rights would quickly become a national debate on homosexuality, our attitudes towards it, and the role that LGBTs take in our societal framework. This same pragmatic part of me believes, quite simply, that we are not yet ready to have this debate. Though we have made significant strides as a country in the past fifteen years since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was established, the fault lines are still visible and the hatred is all too real. A Pyrrhic victory is probably the best possible outcome one could expect from the resulting bluster, since the Republican Party, weakened though it is, holds a powerful hand when it comes to this issue. Refusing them the ability to build themselves back from the edge of oblivion doesn't make good political sense.
President Obama wishes to push an ambitious, badly needed agenda of reform through Congress and sign it into law. Though I wish it wasn't so, I acknolwedge that much political capital would be wasted if he were to engage in pitched battle over LGBT policy matters. The debate would be mean-spirited on both sides as well as counter-productive. It would dominate the news cycle for weeks for no good end. It would enrage the American people and remind us yet again that we are the polarized country we often are. During last year's the Democratic primary, and to some degree the general election, Americans were forced to have another in a continuing series of discussions about racism and sexism. The precedent for such debates was ample but they still became explosive matters at times. While racism and sexism were loaded issues with decades worth of trench warfare and the scars to show for them, gay rights are a matter that have never truly exploded into hand to hand combat. They could, of course, but right now any diversion from the massive amount of necessary reform still to be enacted is not in anyone's best interest.
If more people voluntarily came out, it would help the cause greatly. If more brave men and women who had served in combat came out, this too would aid those attempting to make necessary and needed reforms for all LGBTs. So long as many can think of LGBTs as some kind of perverse, unfamiliar "other" and not their neighbors, friends, teachers, business owners, and the like, then this will be a protracted knife fight with no end in sight. But it doesn't have to be this way.