We are at the start of a new year. Democrats have controlled the halls of Congress for three years. Barack Obama has resided in the White House just days shy of a full year. What is there to show for the progress of the LGBT movement under Democratic control?
The president spoke at the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner, hate crimes legislation became law, and the Ryan White Care Act was reauthorized. But that last item had been reauthorized by a Republican Congress and a Republican president.
To be sure, the GOP track record on gay issues is abysmal, to say the least. However, it was the Democratic Party that asked for gay dollars and the gay vote, both in 2006 and again in 2008 to give them complete control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
To this end, what has our community seen in terms of real progress as opposed to mere lip service? As we begin the second session of the 111th Congress, we must ask ourselves if we’ve been had. Yes, my liberal brothers and sisters will argue that more has been done in the last year to lay the groundwork on major accomplishments in the coming years.
But they are forgetting the most important tenet of politics: Senators and members of Congress have one simple goal, and that is to get reelected. As we usher in the mid-term election season, most of Congress will be focused on maintaining their jobs and their hold on power.
One of the few shining moments in Congress is the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. It has been passed out of committee in the Senate, and is expected to see floor action early this year, that is, if the Obama administration will stop dragging its feet and come up with offsets — ways to pay for the estimated $63 million per year cost.
Last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelsoi said, “not now” to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it wasn’t a high priority). The White House sat idly by as marriage equality was repealed in Maine via ballot initiative and was defeated in the New York State Senate. An immigration bill has been introduced in the House that doesn’t allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency.
And while New York Gov. David Patterson has aggressively pushed his state Senate to act favorably on marriage equality, Obama has said in no uncertain terms that he would prefer Patterson step aside so someone who has a better chance of retaining the governor’s mansion for Democrats can run.
Instead, Democrats spent their political capital on a Cap & Trade bill in the House, and health care reform that does not address health benefits for our partners. Earlier this month, The Bilerico Project asked two questions: Are we not making our voices heard? Or are our voices being ignored?
I suspect that if these items don’t get moved through Congress and signed into law before the Memorial Day recess, we will not see any major legislation favorable to our community at all in 2010.
Robert Turner is president of The Turner Group, a D.C.-based government relations firm. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.