Obama's Excruciating Trap On Civil Rights

Irony of ironies: the Log Cabin Republicans have beaten Barack Obama in trying to end the ban on openly gay members of the military. The ruling, of course, is almost certainly going to be appealed by the Justice Department, and, I'd wager, a stay granted. This is a bit of hyperbole from LCR's lawyer, but not far off either:

"Don't ask, don't tell, as of today at least, is done, and the government is going to have to do something now to resurrect it. This is an extremely significant, historic decision. Once and for all, this failed policy is stopped. Fortunately now we hope all Americans who wish to serve their country can."

So once again, we will have the political prospect of the Obama administration simultaneously legally defending the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell in court, while politically saying they oppose both. There is a case for such a position, and Obama's insistence on orderly executive defenses of laws passed by Congress is constitutionally sound. But in the arc of history and morality it is an increasingly perverse and bizarre one. It could also mean disaster for gay servicemembers.

Here's the thing. We have no guarantee that the Senate will pass legislative repeal of DADT in this session; and there's every chance that a radically Christianist GOP will win majorities in one or both Houses and definitely be able to sustain a filibuster against repeal in the next session if necessary. This is not because even most Republican voters back DADT; it is because it is a party hijacked by religious fundamentalists who cannot conceive of openly gay people serving their country. Look at the party of Paladino and DeMint and Palin. You think they will support anything that could remotely be deemed pro-gay?

In the long run, this will hurt the GOP - and watching the Log Cabin Republicans fight this battle is heartening. But in the short run, it could very well mean that this awful policy, opposed by 75 percent of the country, that imposes intolerable burdens on servicemembers risking their lives for us ... could be in place for the indefinite future. And Obama will be the commander-in-chief enforcing it.

Yes, the GOP is the main party to blame. But no, this does not excuse the extra-cautious, gays-are-radioactive mindset of the Obama administration. This ruling therefore represents a chance for the president. He has the executive authority simply to issue a stop-loss order to end the firing of gay troops until further notice. If the Senate does not pass legislative repeal this session, he should use it.

These men and women are putting their lives at risk for us. Every day we wait, they are victimized and stigmatized. It is immoral, wrong, and damaging to national security. And if Obama thinks gay voters and our families are going to be happy when he ends his first term with nothing accomplished except the lifting of the HIV ban (backed by Bush) and a hate crimes bill that has so far had zero prosecutions, he is mistaken.

Or perhaps it is better put this way: if this president cannot take a stand on civil rights when it is supported by three quarters of the public, when will he?