President Barack Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage was a major moment for gay-rights advocates — historic, emotional, a cause for celebration and more praise for an administration with a strong record on these issues.
But they’re already starting to ask what’s next.
There’s no shortage of items on the wish list: Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Extending Social Security benefits for gay partners. Changing regulations on deporting immigrants in same-sex marriages.
There’s the one that’s sparked the most anger and confusion because it’s seen as an easy fix — an executive order banning LGBT workplace discrimination.
There’s a new one after a House vote Wednesday, when Republicans blocked LGBT protections in the Violence Against Women Act. There are upcoming votes to legalize gay marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington.
And the fight over getting gay marriage into the Democratic convention platform hasn’t even started yet.
In other words, endorsing gay marriage hasn’t let Obama check the election-year box on gay rights and move on. Even as politicians and advocates lionize the president for what he’s done, they see him as sparking the conversation, not ending it.
“There may be folks that say, ‘Let’s just let the issue drop,’ but when you have an issue of fundamental unfairness, you should keep raising it,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Obama wasn’t eager to turn his support of gay marriage into an election-year issue — and sure enough, his numbers in several state polls dropped after his announcement. He’s reinvigorated much of his disenchanted base by reestablishing himself as the vessel of their progressive aspirations, but he accentuated divisions with voters in battlegrounds such as North Carolina, which passed a gay marriage ban by a wide margin the day before Obama spoke out.
With the reelection campaign heating up, the president might not want new pushes on gay rights to keep exposing and reopening a potential electoral wound. But he’s going to get them — on several fronts at once.
The day after Obama’s marriage announcement, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and 16 of his colleagues sent a letter urging the Justice and Homeland Security departments to halt any deportations of immigrant spouses in same-sex couples, such as Massachusetts spouses legally married under state law but not recognized under federal statutes. That’s just one more step that the administration could take to undercut DOMA’s provisions that allow states not to recognize same-sex marriages legal elsewhere, Kerry said, and he’s counting on the White House to lead the way.
“I don’t have high hopes of this Congress doing any of them legislatively, but they’ve got to get done and that’s why I’m focusing more on the executive branch, even though the burden shouldn’t have to be on them,” Kerry said. “I know that we’re going to have a better legislative environment in the future, but we’ve still got to do what we can do now to save lives.”
There’s no shortage of issues for the administration to address, said the Human Rights Campaign’s Fred Sainz, pointing to a 52-bullet “Blueprint for Positive Change” his organization delivered to the White House at the outset of Obama’s presidency that outlined policy changes possible purely through executive action.
“An awful lot of them have been done, but there remain just as many that have not been done,” Sainz said.
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