May 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
HRC endorses Obama for Election 2012

Barack Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • HRC is probably the most useless advocacy group in the United States. Yeah, I guess they have nice parties with celebrities but what do they actually DO?

  • Clarke Cooper must be smoking something. Obama ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and his Republican friends in the US House who are trying to revisit that decision. There’s spin, but this is ridiculous.

    • You clearly didn’t follow the DADT battle in Congress. Obama and Reid were awol on the issue until the lame duck session, and Hapless Harry almost lost the fight. Only the concerted effort of a small group of Senators (mostly Lieberman and Collins) saved it, and the votes of eight Republicans lobbied by Log Cabin made it a reality. So I think you’re the one smoking something.

    • Except that DADT is STILL in place as of now.

    • Repealing DADT was not of Obama’s doing. Further, the military has to actually enforce the acceptance of gays in the military. I doubt this is happening yet.

      Obama did nothing to stop Proposition 8 in California. Had he opposed it, it would likely have failed due to the close margins on that vote. I hope Obama decides to support gay marriage in 2012, because in Minnesota it’s on the ballot to be banned in our state constitution. My guess is that HRC and it’s great logo will be enough for Obama, who will remain silent on marriage equality for his final election campaign.

  • I seldom find reason to defend LCR, but if there is an issue where they indisputably can claim superiority over all other gay advocacy organizations, its DADT. Without LCR’s victory in federal court voiding DADT, repeal would likely have never have reached the floor of Congress. LCR’s continued litigation efforts in the federal Court of Appeals are what keeps the “study” phase from languishing under congressional stalling tactics and legislative trickery.

    HRC was forced to chose its words carefully in recognizing Obama’s participation in ending DADT because his participation was half-hearted. “Pressed for passage” is a far cry from “championed.”
    In the rush to the finish line, the optimal victory for gay men and women serving in the armed forces remains for the ruling ending DADT to be upheld on appeal even if Obama finally ends the ban. A court victory is the only thing that will prevent this travesty of ever being foisted on us again.

    LCR’s Cooper is clearly justified in his criticism of HRC for heaping praise on Obama for a job not yet finished. Then again HRC is quite expert in the art of taking credit for things before they ever actually happen. It’s what they do.

  • Obama has signed two gay rights bills into law — and that’s two more than any other President has ever signed. He’s earned the endorsement.

    Side note: GOProud isn’t a gay rights organization. They are a conservative political group run by gays and lesbians. Their aim is to advance a conservative political philosophy, not gay rights.

  • This is kind of like an abused spouse who keeps going back hoping things will get better. Tha man does NOT deserve an endorsement. I will not vote for him.

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