Supporters of LGBT rights have a major problem at the Department of Justice — the same DOJ that screwed us in a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act and that last week filed a supplemental response to a brief in the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
It seems that the Justice Department is once again working against the wishes of the White House and in this case actually saying the president was wrong when he said to our community at the LGBT Pride month reception at the White House last year that, “… I believe ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ doesn’t contribute to our national security.”
The president is a constitutional scholar so I believe those who write his speeches would, or at least should, check on the accuracy of what he is saying. But in this case the Justice Department filing “denied” that was the case. So apparently DOJ thinks that leaving “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as law wouldn’t hurt our national security.
I think it is time for our community to ask whether the president is being honest with us or whether Eric Holder is the problem and not doing his job to bring the Justice Department at least politically in line with what the president is saying.
Are we being undermined behind closed doors by Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff, or is he just following orders? I have heard from friends in the White House that Messina has actually indicated that the president will not push “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal this year. I would like Messina to let us know what he thinks the president’s position is and what’s being done to advance it. We need to know whether President Obama will do what he has promised us and really ask Congress to repeal the military’s gay ban this year. Or is that line just for receptions and dinner speeches?
I am still a big supporter of the president. I am also one of the people in the LGBT community often accused of having too much patience. But patience is one thing, being lied to, or seeing a politician trying to have it both ways, is another.
I was at the Human Rights Campaign dinner last year when the president spoke out clearly on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also said, “Keep my feet to the fire.” Well the time is now for us in the LGBT community to do just that. We need to keep his feet and the feet of his staff to the fire and we need honest answers to our questions. At a recent White House press briefing, the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld asked Robert Gibbs a question about the DOJ and its response to a recent case. After much hemming and hawing, Gibbs had to admit that what DOJ did was not in concert with the White House and he was surprised. It’s time the White House stopped being surprised by DOJ and that Eric Holder take some leadership over there.
Many of the DOJ statements on the Defense of Marriage Act and now “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” appear to not be points of law but rather opinions by staff at DOJ. Whether the gay ban does or doesn’t contribute to our national security is basically an opinion without empirical proof. I believe when the president spoke he did so knowing that when you fire needed linguists and keep highly qualified members of the military from serving it indeed hurts our national security. I would like to know on what basis DOJ contradicted his remarks.
How long does this White House expect our community to accept its mixed messages? How long do they expect us to hold our fire? I know that John Berry, director of OPM and the highest-ranking LGBT official in the administration, is working hard to try to keep the president’s promise. But Berry isn’t in the White House every day and at all the high-level meetings that I assume, or at least hope, that Messina attends.
Politics is a strange business as we all well know. And in the scheme of things I guess “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” doesn’t fall that high on the president’s daily list of urgent problems to solve. Healthcare, jobs and the economy, climate control, two wars, immigration and sorting out the financial markets may be further up on his list of to-do items.
But for us in the LGBT community righting an old wrong, which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is, and one that impacts our very basic civil and human rights is high on our agenda and I would hope that the president and those political people around him would understand that.
Peter Rosenstein is a D.C.-based LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.