President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday offering limited benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees failed to quell growing anger in the gay community that gay rights issues were getting short shrift at the White House.
In fact, Obama's promise to offer ancillary employee benefits - such as long-term-care insurance and the right to use sick leave to care for domestic partners - while still denying more valuable benefits, such as health insurance and retirement funds, may have further agitated gay and lesbian activists who were already fuming over other perceived snubs.
Obama said he also favors extending health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees but that such a move is currently prohibited by the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which passed in 1996.
Are they kidding us? Domestic partnership benefits WITHOUT health insurance because of DOMA? gay fundraiser and activist David Mixner told POLITICO in an e-mail. It is like rubbing salt in the wound.
From what you describe, it seems to me to fall very far short, said C. Dixon Osburn, a gay activist in Washington. A patchwork approach that doesn't amount to a full array of benefits one would want or expect ... does not seem like a very good olive branch.
Obama said Wednesday that he wanted to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, calling it discriminatory, and that he supports legislation to give same-sex partners of Federal employees equal benefits as heterosexual couples enjoy.
Hundreds of Fortune 500 companies already offer such benefits, not only because it's the right thing to do, but because they recognize it helps them compete for and retain top talent, he said.
Gay leaders have been in a slow burn through much of the spring, distressed about the Obama administration's failure to press for immediate repeal of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy prohibiting openly gay men and women from serving. Some also chafed at the White House's refusal to suspend forced discharges of gay military personnel.
The concern escalated to a public furor after the Justice Department filed legal briefs in recent days defending the military policy and DOMA. Justice officials explained that they were required to defend the laws, but many gay leaders said the briefs used unnecessarily inflammatory language, particularly by citing legal precedents from cases that related to incest and underage spouses.
I think there is more palpable anger in the LGBT lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at the perceived inaction by the Obama administration than I have felt directed at any prior administration. I think that's in part because the expectations were high and the response so far has been low, said Osburn.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry insisted that Obama's action on benefits demonstrated aggressive leadership.
This is a first step, not a final step, Berry said. It's an example of practicing before preaching. I believe the president is taking bold action to do just that.
Berry, who is Obama's highest-ranking openly gay appointee, said Obama has been very clear that he would like to do away with don't ask, don't tell. However, Obama did not mention the issue Wednesday.
Berry insisted that Obama's Wednesday announcement had nothing to do with the withering criticism the administration has faced from gays and lesbians in recent days. Some leaders in the community are urging their members to boycott a June 25 Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Washington.
Berry acknowledged that some benefits announced Wednesday by Obama, such as sick leave to care for a same-sex partner, have been permitted on a case-by-case basis in the past.
What the president is doing today is making this no longer optional. He's making it mandatory, Berry said.
But Osburn said the measures were not enough.The administration, by its failure to move on our issues - they are quickly losing credibility with our community, he said.