January 14, 2010 at 4:00 pm EST | by Robert Turner
More Democratic disappointments

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 The White House sat idly by as marriage equality was repealed in Maine via ballot initiative and was defeated in the New York State Senate.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 robert@turner-dc.com.

  • True, our entire agenda hasn’t passed. In fact, a large portion of it seems to be stalled. However, politicians ultimately need to be pragmatists. Instead of working on gay rights legislation, Congress and the President have been focused on managing the wind-down of one war and the ramping up of another, trying to find some way to stem the dramatic loss of jobs and strengthen a weak recovery, figure out some way to get the necessary votes to get some sort of health care bill passed and figure out how to get re-elected in 2010. They haven’t been idle. They just have looked at the legislative priorities and figured out the math that might get them elected again.

  • We have to do more than elect a mere Democratic majority. We have to elect a progressive Democratic majority. In the Senate that means at least 60 progressive Senators or a progressive agenda can’t be guaranteed.

  • I am disgusted with Nancy Pelosi. She treats us like second class citizens.

  • I have to agree. We really haven’t gotten anything from the Dems apart from the low hanging fruit of the Hate Crimes Act and the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act, and that my friends simply will not do. As Robert Turner points out, this lack of progress on LGBT legislation can only be the result of two things, the first being our community’s silence in not letting themselves be heard and the second being the Dems ignoring our voices and concerns. More and more, I begin to think its the latter problem, as the Democrats are clearly taking us for granted. Speaking for myself, I can tell you I am going to leave them hanging in 2010 if they don’t at least pass The Domestic Benefits & Obligations Act AND ENDA bills; which are my top priorities. I would like to see them repeal the rotten Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and the Defense of Marriage Act, but lets face it, if they can’t manage to pass DBPO and ENDA they obviously won’t get that done. My line in the sand is them passing DBPO & ENDA, and if they don’t they have truly betrayed our trust.

  • I agree with you Tim, DBPO and ENDA are the minimal I will accept this year. If not I am voting Green party only. I will not vote for any dems at the national level (I will support the California democratic party which actually has balls). I get calls from the Boxer campaign but I let her know that I am done with them until they show real accomplishments. Boxer’s silence doesn’t sit well with me anymore. Maybe the party needs a few election losses to wise up, they don’t appear willing to do anything for us anyway.

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