Mexico City policy? Reversed. Stem cell research? Authorized. Fair pay? Lilly Ledbetter! One-by-one, Democrats in Congress and President Obama have ticked through major planks of the Democratic Party platform. But the President has yet to utter a peep about gay rights, producing jitters in the gay rights community. Based on interviews with senior administration officials and with Democrats who advise the White House, here's what's going on.
As soon as the Senate confirms John Berry to head the Office of Personnel Management, Obama intends to sign an executive order strengthening workplace protections for the LGBT community.
Having Berry by his side is important -- Berry'd be the highest-ranking openly gay administration official -- and, of course, as the OPM chief, he's the chief human resource officer for government employees.
This executive order may -- or may not -- be accompanied by other instructions that would have the effect of expanding gay rights.
Then comes legislation expanding the definition of what constitutes a "hate crime" under federal law. It passed the House and Senate last year with ease and included transgender protections. The House can pass it anytime it wants, and will do so within the next few months; the Senate will probably take it up before Memorial Day. White House and Senate sources are confident that there are 60 "yes" votes to avoid a filibuster. Later this year, Obama would sign the hate crimes expansion into law.
The fates of two other gay community priorities are less clear. The Senate could probably muster 60 votes in favor of a national employment non-discrimination act (ENDA) that does not include protection for transgenders; it's not clear at all whether a more expansive ENDA would clear. Passing this through the House won't be a problem, but the gay rights community knows that the onus is on it to find 60 votes in the Senate.
And then there's Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Some activists want Obama to force change to DoD policy through the Defense appropriations authorization bill. That would not survive a filibuster. The preferred route, I am told, is to build consensus. Obama would appoint a panel to study the issue and then wait until after the 2010 elections when there would (could) be more Democratic Senators.