President Barack Obama’s promises of change are falling short for one core Democratic constituency: gays and lesbians, whose leaders say Obama’s administration isn’t keeping up with the times.
Gay rights campaigners, most of them Democrats who supported Obama in November, have begun to voice their public frustration with Obama’s inaction, small jokes at their community’s expense and deafening silence on what they see as the signal civil rights issue of this era. His most important campaign promises repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the military ban on openly gay and lesbian service-members have not been fulfilled.
And the news, which emerged quietly earlier this year, that he’d supported same-sex marriage back in 1996, then changed his mind, especially rankles. As mainstream Democratic politicians such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) move to support same-sex marriage, gay rights advocates say that the barrier-breaking president looks increasingly odd for opposing what they see as full equality.
Gay rights issues have been moving at breakneck speed, none faster than same-sex marriage. Most public opinion polls now show more than 40 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, seen as a fringe issue just a few years earlier. Already, five New England states and Iowa have same-sex marriage laws on the books.
“Politicians are finding out that their voters are moving faster than they anticipated,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who called Obama’s place behind that curve “surprising, because he is the next-generational candidate.”
Obama also has been criticized for a joke at the expense of same-sex marriage. After the White House Correspondents Association dinner, columnist Dan Savage fumed that Obama’s only reference since being sworn in to the high-profile drive toward same-sex marriage in Iowa had been a joke about going to the state with longtime friend and adviser David Axelrod to “make it official.”
“The best he can do — all he’s willing to do — is toss off an Adam Sandler-level joke,” Savage wrote. “I’m still optimistic that the president is going to be good on his word.”