The Human Rights Campaign announced on Thursday that it has officially thrown its support behind President Obama in his bid for a second term at the White House.
In a statement, HRC President Joe Solmonese said his organization endorsed Obama because of what the president accomplished for the LGBT community during his nearly two-and-a-half years in office.
“President Obama has improved the lives of LGBT Americans more than any president in history,” Solmonese. “In 2008 we were promised change and profound change is what we got. More remains to be done and ensuring that President Obama is able to continue the forward momentum toward equality for another term is an absolute priority of the Human Rights Campaign.”
The achievements for the LGBT community that HRC highlighted in its endorsement statement are pressing for passage and signing legislation to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; pressing for passage and signing a hate crimes protections law; determining that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and refusing to defend the anti-gay law in court; and requiring hospitals across the country to permit hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples.
Alec Gerlach, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said the HRC endorsement demonstrates the support that Obama has offered the LGBT community.
“That the Human Rights Campaign offered such an early endorsement is a clear sign that the president has fought for LGBT rights across the country and in our nation’s military,” Gerlach said. “We will work closely within the LGBT community in the months to come to ensure that we are united in the cause to re-elect the president and to ensure equality for gay and transgendered Americans. The president believes that DOMA is discriminatory and unfair, and because the fight for equality affects us all he will not support it.”
HRC’s endorsement for Obama shouldn’t come as a surprise because the organization has been working closely with the White House in the implementation of pro-LGBT initiatives since the start of the administration. HRC endorsed Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign and has endorsed only Democratic presidential candidates in previous elections.
But the extent to which HRC will back Obama in 2012 election with financial support remains uncertain.
Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said decisions on financial contributions or other support that his organization will make to Obama haven’t yet been made.
“Today is about the endorsement,” Sainz said. “If and when there are other reflections of our support — those are determinations that will be made later.”
Criticism of the timing of HRC’s endorsement has already emerged among LGBT activists with both left-leaning and conservative ideology.
John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, said HRC should have waited until Obama took more action on behalf of the LGBT community — such as announce support for marriage rights for gay couples — before endorsing the president.
“Why not hold out for him to endorse marriage equality?” Aravosis said. “Or ask him to sign an executive order on [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] for federal contractors? The man hasn’t even finished repealing ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'], and forget about ENDA and DOMA, and HRC is already saying ‘Mission Accomplish’? You don’t just give the president something for nothing. You negotiate these kind [of] endorsements.”
Sainz said HRC will continue to press for more pro-LGBT actions from Obama even in the wake of making an endorsement.
“We continue to work towards all of those very important priorities,” Sainz said. “The alternative to not having President Obama in the White House is just not an acceptable option.”
Aravosis said he thinks HRC will purport to have received promises from the Obama administration in exchange for offering support, but should be challenging the president rather than standing behind him.
“While I’m sure HRC will claim they got lots of juicy promises in exchange for the endorsement, everyone else learned a long time ago that the president is unlikely to keep his promises unless you get in his face, and HRC will never get in his face,” Aravosis said. “So the promises are meaningless, and thus the president got HRC’s endorsement for nothing, and now won’t have to do anything for the next two years to truly earn that endorsement. I’m sure it nails down the president for the next HRC dinner, but that really shouldn’t be the goal here.”
HRC didn’t respond on short notice to a request to comment on whether the organization secured any additional promises from Obama in exchange for the endorsement.
LGBT conservative groups also criticized HRC for making an endorsement before a Republican presidential nominee has been chosen — or even before all the likely candidates on the Republican side have announced their intent to run for the White House.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said the HRC is ending what he called its “charade of bi-partisanship” by endorsing Obama at this point in the election cycle.
“LGBT people who are interested in putting policy before partisanship now know that HRC is little more than a puppet of the Democratic National Committee and an organization that has one goal — to elect more Democrats,” LaSalvia said.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, also said HRC is offering its support too early by endorsing Obama with Election 2012 more than a year away.
“By prostrating themselves before Barack Obama eighteen months before the 2012 election, the Human Rights Campaign has effectively told the president that he doesn’t have to do anything more to earn gay and lesbian votes,” Cooper said. “Given his lackluster record in the fight for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, LGBT Americans were counting on HRC to hold the president’s feet to the fire on his other campaign promises, not to become a branch of his re-election campaign.”
Cooper further criticized HRC by saying the endorsement sends “the wrong message” to potential Republican presidential nominees who may want to reach out to the LGBT community.
“There are several possible candidates who deserve to be fairly judged on their own merits, and the dialogue on equality issues for the 2012 campaign has barely begun,” Cooper said. “This decision makes it clear that Joe Solmonese’s greatest priority is an invitation to drinks at a Democratic White House, not securing votes for ENDA, DOMA repeal or tax equity. Such a pre-emptive endorsement is a mistake and will undermine equality efforts.”
In response to criticism for LGBT conservative groups, Sainz said HRC made the endorsement because Obama is far and away above any potential candidate the Republican Party may choose in the 2012 election.
“The records of other candidates seeking the presidency should be a wake-up call to all fair-minded Americans,” Sainz said. “As the fight for equality moves forward, President Obama is marching with us while the alternative would stop us in our tracks.”