"...can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?"
Bob Dylan penned those words the year before I was born, but they ring just as true today. But it's the next couplet from "Blowin' in the Wind" that's on my mind today:
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
That's what I'd like you to tell me, President Obama. How many times are you going to keep turning your head and pretending that you don't see the signs telling you that your silence on gay rights has gone on far too long? How many times are you going to send insincere notes of condolence to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that you sat idly by and let be discharged from the military under a policy that you promised to end? How many times are you going to suck up to the forces of hatred and bigotry and division, in the misguided hope that you might be able to gain their support?
And how long, gay and lesbian and bisexual Americans, are we going to sit idly by and let him get away with this kind of crap? This man came to us, time and again, for money and for support during his two-year campaign for the presidency. And we showed up, time and again. He promised us that he would be a "fierce advocate" for our rights. Can we honestly say that he has even tried living up to that promise? No. For proof, I invite you to examine the White House web site. Can you find any page there, or even a bullet point, that speaks to a single gay rights issue? I've looked and looked, and I can't.
UPDATE: OK, taylormattd at Big Orange caught a boo-boo. There is actually some language on that page about gay rights issues. Not much, however, as he pointed out, and not that the president has actually gotten around to doing anything about any of the issues he listed there.
We have, yet again, been used and tossed aside by a politician who has cynically calculated that we will just swallow the outrage and come crawling back in two or four years when he will again ask for our time, our talent, and our treasure. In all likelihood, he will again cynically promise to do better on our issues this time. Many of us will believe him.
I, however, will not be among them. Because unless I see some concrete action on one or more of the following, Barack Obama will not even get my vote in 2012, much less any more concrete forms of my support:
I am quite sure that I will get comments from people asking, cynically, why I didn't vote for McCain if I thought Obama was so bad. Or why I'm throwing away my vote. Or why I can't just be patient a little while longer, or recognize that the president has a lot on his plate right now. Believe me, I've heard 'em all before--and I call bullshit on each and every one.
I was never under the impression that Obama was big on gay rights, unlike a lot of my gay brethren and sistren. Neither was I ever under the impression that Obama is truly a liberal or a progressive, unlike a lot of my liberal/progressive colleagues. But I am thoroughly and heartily disappointed in just how fierce a non-advocate Obama has been for gay rights thus far, and just how not-liberal and not-progressive he has been politically. And the only way I see of changing this highly disturbing trend is to keep hammering home to the president just how upset I am--and to make sure he knows that the only currency he recognizes as important (my vote) is in jeopardy. Otherwise, he will go on as he has begun, and expect me to come running back the next time he needs an infusion of cash or some time. If he wants to get my support on issues, then he needs to show he's willing to support some of mine. That's how this whole political system works: give a little to get a little.
I recognize that there are huge, complex, and important issues facing this country, and that President Obama's predecessor in office left an Augean stable of a mess behind for his successor to confront. I am, however, of the opinion that one of those huge, complex, and important issues facing this country is the question of whether or not it can continue to treat some of us as second-class citizens.
Over and above the fundamental question of civil rights and equal justice under law (a sentiment I'm sure I've read or seen somewhere), supporting gay rights makes sound economic sense as well. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network estimates that as of today 223 persons have been discharged from the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" since President Obama and the 111th Congress were sworn in on January 20, 2009. Kicking out and replacing those 223 people will cost the Department of Defense, on average, $48,073 for an enlisted servicemember and $97,565 for an officer (costs in 2004 dollars according to a 2006 blue ribbon report by the Palm Center--PDF link). Those costs are conservatively estimated, and do not take into account the costs of recruitment for officers, any costs associated with recruitment and training for an officer candidate who comes up through the ranks, or any of the extremely high costs for specialized training such as advanced language study, medical training, nuclear training, or pilot training. At least three of the individuals kicked out since Obama took office were officers (Arabic linguist 1st Lt. Dan Choi; 18-year veteran Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a fighter pilot/weapons officer; and 2nd Lt. Sandy Tsao, the Chicago military policewoman who received Obama's first condolence note on being kicked out of the Army), and the overwhelming majority of those dismissed from the ranks have been enlisted personnel; arbitrarily assuming that the 223 discharges represent 3 officers and 220 enlisted, that's 3 x $97,565=$292,695 and 220 x $48,073=$10,576,060 or $10,868,755 that the Department of Defense didn't need to spend this year, and which President Obama could have saved if he had stepped up and fulfilled his campaign promise to end DADT.
I'm well aware of the fact that DADT is enshrined in federal law, and that it will take an act of Congress to repeal it fully and completely. (Not to mention removing the sodomy provisions--which apply equally to hetero- and homosexual acts, but which seem only ever to be used against LGBT personnel--from the Uniform Code of Military Justice.) However, the same Palm Center that produced the report I used to estimate the cost of kicking out the 223 individuals the Obama administration has let go recently produced another report (PDF link) showing that federal law explicitly gives the president the authority to halt discharges under DADT by executive order during the current state of national emergency (defined, in the law, as any time when National Guard units have been federalized and are serving in a combat role). Yet the president continues to insist that he needs more time and more studies before he can do anything, and that his hands are tied. Once again, Mr. President, I'm calling bullshit. You can stop the hemorrhaging, demonstrate your "fierce advocacy" for gay rights, and then pursue the appropriate legislative remedies to make the suspension permanent, all with the stroke of a pen. I won't be holding my breath waiting for that day, however.
And what about marriage? According to one source, the average cost of a wedding in the United States is around $17,500. According to InfoPlease, citing figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 2,208,000 weddings in the U.S. last year: 2,208,000 x $17,500 = $38,648,000,000. For the purposes of comparison, that amount is more than the total budgets of the National Science Foundation ($6,490,400,000) and the National Institutes of Health ($29,312,311,000) for the current fiscal year combined. Eighteen thousand couples got married in California between the time the state supreme court legalized same-gender marriage in May and the time the
voters haters of California passed the infamous Proposition 8 in November last year. Applying the same average cost, that total represents $315,000,000 spent in just one state in a period of about six months. Assuming, arguendo, that same-gender marriages would have continued at roughly the same pace over the course of a whole year, that would represent roughly 35,000 marriages and around $600 million in income each year. Given California's parlous budget situation, I have to think Prop H8 is a loser on that front as well--and that's not counting further losses from people like your 'umble blogger who will not voluntarily travel to California unless and until that proposition is undone.
It cost Ted Olson and David Boies at least $350 just to file their federal lawsuit to overturn Proposition H8. Although they're probably working on the case pro bono, I'm quite sure that attorneys' fees alone will amount to several hundred thousand dollars--to say nothing of what it will cost the court to hear the case, and the inevitable appeals. Given that the federal district courts received 267,257 civil filings last calendar year (PDF link), I'm sure they wouldn't mind not having to get involved in this question. I'm sure the taxpayers who pay for that district court system wouldn't mind not having to support those extra costs, either. What a pity our "fierce advocate" of a president isn't interested in saying or doing anything on this front, either.
To all those well-intentioned people who insist that I should just be patient a little longer and recognize that the president has a lot on his plate right now, I respond with words that should surely be familiar to them--and to this president:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of [discrimination]. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every [gay American] with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
How many years are "enough," Mr. President? As far as I'm concerned, we're long past "enough"--and if you don't get off your duff and start doing something to prove to me that you really are a "fierce advocate" for gay rights (and other progressive issues, I might add), I'm afraid that I'm going to have to say that in your case, four years are enough.