Last night’s State of the Union was both a win and lose for the LGBT community. While President Obama did address several major issues on the gay radar during his lengthy speech, ask most any advocate and they’ll tell you that wish list is much, much longer.
The Human Rights Campaign, for one, has been asking that the president sign an executive order that would ban employment discrimination on the federal level. And marriage groups have also been tirelessly advocating that the administration finally do something about DOMA, which is preventing even legal marriages in states that allow them from being recognized on the federal level. In a practical sense, it means same-sex couples in states like New York and Maryland, where gay marriage is legal, still are not recognized as married by the federal government. And they still must file separate (and definitely unequal) tax returns come April. But neither issue seemed to make it into the State of the Union last night.
Instead, President Obama alluded to the LGBT community at one point in a general way, saying, “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country, the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”
The LGBT conversation also swirled around issues of the military, immigration and domestic violence. He mentioned a recent effort to ensure that same-sex partners of service members are entitled to the same benefits as heterosexuals, championing the repeal of DADT. “We’ll invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending,” said Obama. “We will ensure equal treatment for all servicemembers, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters and moms, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.”
But not everyone thinks he’s doing enough. “Time and time again, President Obama continues to pay lip service to employment equity, but refuses to take the simple step of signing an Executive Order that would end LGBT discrimination by federal contractors – and that would prevent taxpayer dollars, including taxpayer dollars from LGBT Americans, from going to discriminatory companies,” explains Heather Cronk, GetEQUAL’s managing director. “He had his pen out today to sign other Executive Orders – it’s incumbent on the LGBT community to ask why he decided to put that pen away before protecting 25 percent of the American workforce from workplace discrimination.”
The president is also asking that the House pass a domestic violence bill that includes gay and lesbian survivors of abuse. House Republicans have said they would like to remove that clause, limiting the protections to opposite-sex couples only. And while Obama didn’t mention the clause specifically, he did call on legislators to get on board.
Binational couples were also on our minds, with the president endorsing a plan that would end discrimination and offer a safety net for immigrants – regardless of sexual orientation. But again he faces opposition from republicans. A few outspoken members of the GOP have said they would refuse to sign on if gay and lesbian binational couples are included.
“President Obama continues to push for a version of immigration reform that focuses entirely on enforcement instead of laying out a progressive vision that would put 11 million people on a pathway to citizenship and would include all of our families,” says Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, GetEQUAL’s national field director. “As someone who would qualify for the DREAM Act and who is part of a binational family, I know first-hand that true comprehensive immigration reform must include LGBTQ families, a fair and just pathway to citizenship, and an end to harsh enforcement that separates families.”
Overall, the speech was a laundry list of goals the president would like to accomplish in his second term, with most of his efforts predictably focused on jobs, the economy and healthcare, including a mention of AIDS. “So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, and helping communities to feed, and power, and educate themselves,” he said, “by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.”
Click here to read or watch the speech in its entirety. And tell us what you think: Is the president doing enough for the LGBT community?