As the nation prepares for the inauguration of its 44th president, LGBT citizens in particular can reflect on the ups and downs throughout the election campaign. By anyone’s reckoning, it was a long campaign season. And the roller-coaster ride did not end on Election Day. Far from it.
Though the LGBT community breathed a sigh of relief when President-elect Obama bested Republican John McCain, gays and lesbians in California saw their right to marriage overturned by referendum, along with several other states that amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage.
Since the election, the LGBT community has been frustrated, disappointed and heartened by President-elect Obama. Frustrated by his choice of the Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation, disappointed that no out LGBT individuals were selected for his Cabinet and heartened that Obama asked the openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson to speak at a pre-inauguration celebration and in his appointment of an openly gay man, John Berry, to lead the Office of Personnel Management.
This last appointment, the highest post held by an openly gay person to date, is significant. For the many who have never heard of OPM, it is the agency that manages the civil-service arm of the federal government, including pay, benefits and retirement.
On its own, the agency has over 4,000 employees. Its policies impact most of the 3-million people who work for the government.
For its part, OPM interprets the laws passed by Congress that impact federal workers, including any antidiscrimination policies or equal benefits.
It was also uncovered this week that since Obama’s 1996 Illinois Senate campaign, he has publicly grown more conservative on the issue of same-sex marriage.
At the time, he sent a typed letter to a Chicago gay newspaper that stated: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
In the presidential campaign, Obama stated he supported civil unions, but stopped short of supporting full marriage equality.
Both his appointments and his earlier statements supporting gay marriage show that he is by far the most inclusive president to date. And while the hopes of the LGBT community are ascending again, we should be careful not to put Obama on too high of a pedestal.
If the community will remember, the last gay-friendly president still signed the Defense of Marriage Act, banning same-sex marriage at the federal level, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” banning openly gay servicemembers in the armed forces.
It’s one thing to be hopeful, another to be naïve.