Obama's Second Chance At An LGBT Advisor
July 08, 2011 5:16 pm ET by Kerry Eleveld
The perfect opportunity has just opened up for President Barack Obama to appoint an LGBT advisor to a top White House post.
Friday morning, Mike Allen's Politico Playbook confirmed that Brian Bond, the de facto White House liaison to the LGBT community, is leaving to join the Democratic National Committee. Via Allen:
"BRIAN BOND joins DNC as director of constituency outreach. He has been at White House Office of Public Engagement for past two years and has been on frontlines of key initiatives, particularly on LGBT front."
Truth be told, Bond was not a chief political advisor to the president on LGBT issues and he didn't carry the title of "special assistant" (or higher) to the president - a rank that affords people clout and ensures them a certain amount of access to the Oval Office. John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, has primarily served as the lead on LGBT issues in the context of this administration. Bond was more likely to be relaying and implementing what had been decided by others.
But as I suggested in a post last week, now is the time to appoint an LGBT advisor who plays a lead role in serious political and policy discussions of the day at the White House. More often than not, White House aides have been reactive in how they have handled gay rights and have typically taken a piecemeal approach to things: Check off enough boxes and surely the queer community would eventually be satisfied.
However, in the next year and a half, it will be more critical than ever for the White House to be anticipatory and proactive because the gay rights issue that scares them most - the one the president literally recoils from addressing - will be unavoidable in 2012.
Whether the White House likes it or not, same-sex marriage - which quite simply carries enormous symbolic importance in mainstream America - will be ubiquitous. First off, the case challenging Proposition 8 could be heard by the Supreme Court as early as next year. Beyond that, pro-LGBT forces are contemplating marriage-equality efforts in Maine, Maryland, and Oregon, while anti-equality opponents are eyeing opportunities to either roll back marital rights or enshrine discrimination in their state constitution in Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.
That last one, in particular, should give the White House pause because the DNC will be holding the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina just a couple short months in advance of when NC voters could be voting on whether to institutionalize discrimination in the only remaining Southeastern state to have sidestepped a constitutional amendment thus far. NC blogger Pam Spaulding is already anticipating what the president's non/support could mean for the Tar Heel State:
"...what we have going on can and should be addressed by this President -- we have states embracing equality, while other states are enshrining bigotry into their state constitutions against a class of citizens at the ballot box.
He knows this is wrong; and it will give comfort to our foes who will quote the President with glee in their campaigns to pass marriage amendments." (emphasis hers)
Let's take a moment to revisit the California Proposition 8 calamity of '08. During the campaign, Obama sent a letter to San Francisco's LGBT "Alice B. Toklas" Democratic Club that was touted by Obama's gay supporters but largely overlooked by the "No on 8" campaign that worked to defeat the ballot measure.
"As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law," Obama wrote. "And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states."
While the letter certainly sent a positive signal, Obama eventually served up something markedly more negative to Rev. Rick Warren and his evangelical flock. During a campaign stop at California's Saddleback Church, Obama offered his religious objection to same-sex marriage. Anti-gay Proposition 8 proponents ultimately used that audio in robo-calls placed to Democrats in the lead up to election day.
"Here is Barack Obama in his own words on the definition of marriage," the call began, according to the L.A. Times. Then the voice of Obama speaking at Saddleback came in: "I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God is in the mix."
This type of equivocation - telling one audience one thing and another audience something else - has been extremely detrimental to the marriage equality movement. And Obama's reluctance to take very bold, public, unabashed stands against anti-marriage equality efforts has continued in the White House. Advocates working against Maine's ballot measure in 2009, which also successfully stripped marital rights from same-sex couples, were desperate to see the president make a strong statement about that year's anti-gay measure. Instead what they got from a White House spokesperson was a generic recitation of previous statements that, by design, didn't draw big headlines at mainstream newspapers.
"The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and as he said at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, he believes 'strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away.' Also at the dinner, he said he supports, 'ensuring that committed gay couples have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country.'"
If the North Carolina showdown takes place, and I certainly hope it doesn't, President Obama will once again be faced with an opportunity to take a bold stance against discrimination or to divvy up conflicting sentiments to select audiences. If he chooses the latter, some LGBT advocates will come to his defense while others will be outraged. But no one will be ignorant to the lessons from 2008 and mainstream reporters will be asking a lot more pointed questions based on the fervent national debate ignited by New York.
While the White House still thinks of marriage equality as a gay issue, the greater public now thinks of it as an American issue. This is something White House advisors have failed to comprehend thus far, otherwise they wouldn't be holding so steadfastly to a federalist rationale for keeping the president out of it.
A high-placed advisor could help them anticipate just how tone-deaf President Obama's current stance will sound every time he's forced to reiterate it on the campaign trail. He can talk about "don't ask, don't tell" repeal and DOMA all he wants, the voters still know a dodge when they see one.