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Gay critics say 'too little, too late' from Obama

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: White House officials: Obama favors full benefits, but legislation is needed
  • Obama expands some benefits to same-sex partners, but not health care
  • "Nice gesture, but a disappointment," says Richard Kim, senior editor of The Nation
  • Some critics show discontent by pulling out of DNC gay fundraising dinner
By Kristi Keck
CNN
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(CNN) -- President Obama's decision to grant some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is seen by some as his attempt to extend an olive branch to the gay and lesbian community, but critics say it's "too little, too late."

Some critics say President Obama has let the gay community down.

Some critics say President Obama has let the gay community down.

"It seems to me at least to be a nice gesture, but a disappointment," said Richard Kim, a senior editor at The Nation magazine.

The memorandum Obama signed Wednesday is not expected to grant health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners, as that is prohibited under the Defense of Marriage Act.

"It will absolutely be seen as something good -- but I think, for example, it not including full health insurance -- that is going to put a real microscope on that question. You know, why not?" Kim said, adding that the memo applies only to federal employees, so most people will not be affected by it.

Charles Moran, the spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans, said the lack of full benefits in Thursday's memorandum shows a lack of commitment to the gay community.

"That's the part that just shows that the Obama administration really isn't serious about their promises to the gay and lesbian community. Things like the health benefits, things like retirement benefits and coverage for spouses. These are the core issues," Moran said.

"Why start the marathon if you're not serious about ending the race?" he added.

White House officials involved in discussions with gay-rights advocates say that Obama favors extending full health care benefits to same-sex couples but that will take legislation to accomplish.

Moran said Obama has had multiple opportunities to fulfill his promises to the gay and lesbian community -- including by repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and standing against the Justice Department motion filed last week in support of the Defense of Marriage Act.

"Here we are, several months after he's been inaugurated, and we've gotten basically nothing. So it is too little, too late," Moran said.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama will keep his word.

"[Extending benefits to same-sex couples] is a matter of fairness. The president is committed to ensuring that fairness as well as working on and fulfilling other promises that he has made in the campaign around things like 'don't ask, don't tell,' " Gibbs said.

The president has faced sharp criticism over the Justice Department's filing in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which opposes same-sex marriage. The act used the government's interest in opposing incestuous marriages to support its position against same-sex marriage.

Openly gay Rep. Barney Frank said the Obama administration made a "big mistake" and is calling on the president to clearly explain his views on the matter.

"The wording they used was inappropriate," the Massachusetts Democrat told the Boston Herald in an interview published in the paper's Wednesday edition.

Many gay activists have called on Frank and other gay members of Congress to speak out against the recent Department of Justice brief.

The rancor threatens to disrupt a big Democratic National Committee gay fundraiser in Washington next week.

Vice President Biden is the guest at next Thursday's DNC's LBGT Leadership Council 10th Annual Dinner in Washington. Critics are calling for Frank and other gay congressional leaders to boycott the dinner, for which tickets go for $1,000 to $30,000 a plate.

Activist David Mixner and blogger Andy Towle, two well-known gay rights advocates, announced that they were pulling out, citing disappointment with the Defense of Marriage Act brief. iReport.com: Share your thoughts on Obama and same-sex marriage

The president also rankled gay advocates before his inauguration when he named megachurch pastor the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his swearing-in. Warren, in an interview with Belief.net, likened homosexuality to bestiality and incest. He also supported California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state.

During the Warren controversy, Obama -- who frequently spoke in favor of gay and lesbian rights during the campaign but has said he opposes same-sex marriage -- declared himself "a fierce advocate for gay and lesbian Americans."

Given the support Obama received from the gay community during the campaign season, Kim said so far, the Obama administration has let gay and lesbian rights activists down.

Obama got 70 percent of the vote from those who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to CNN exit polls.

"I think there is an overwhelming feeling that he has not lived up to expectations on these matters," he said.

But, he added, "there's some sympathy for him -- there's the worst recession since the Great Depression, troops are in two different countries in the Middle East -- so there's a lot on his plate."

Kim said Obama's full agenda, however, shouldn't be used as an excuse to delay action on gay rights issues. If the administration waits until there is a news hole, then the issues will be subject to a lot of debate, he said.

"In the middle of the health care debate, saying we're going to do health care, we're going to fix the economy and then this other [gay rights] stuff -- of course it's right. It doesn't require a national debate," he said. "This is stuff that's been debated forever. America does not need a huge national debate on some of these issues," Kim said.

Kim said while Obama has disappointed the gay community, he still has some time to make good on his campaign promises.

"I think people will wait through the first two legislative sessions, but then after that some of this stuff does need to move to the front," he said.

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