Obama and Gay Rights

As was evident in yesterday’s March on Washington, many members of the gay community are angry that the Obama Administration has not yet acted on several promises to advance equality for gays, lesbians and transgendered people. The general sentiment is: yes, you talk the talk. But where’s the walk?

Others–generally those who have worked on these issues for many years–recognize that  actually achieving these changes is more complicated than the critics seem to understand.

Legal change almost always lags cultural change. That’s because legislatures and even the courts (angry accusations about “socialist” policymakers and “imperial” courts notwithstanding) rarely act until something like a social consensus emerges. Nor can a President unilaterally make most changes. And even when a President can act without Congress, through Executive Order, there are legislative consequences to be expected.

The impatience displayed by many of yesterday’s marchers is understandable. It’s like being told that “if you just stay in the back of the bus a bit longer” America is more likely to get health care and environmental protection. Why should their rights be held in thrall to other goals?

My own analysis is somewhat different. Barack Obama is one of the most strategic politicians to come along in my lifetime. I believe him when he says–as he did at the HRC dinner–that he is committed to achieving equal rights for the GLBT community. And I believe he will do so in his first term. But there are two things any constituency needs from its political champions: sincere commitment and the strategic smarts to actually get something done. I think Clinton had the commitment; but he couldn’t get it done.  He faced a culture that was not ready, and his approach to the issue of gays in the military was badly timed. I think Obama knows how to get things done–even very difficult things. He is asking the gay community to trust him.

It’s easy for me to say, of course–I’m not gay. But I DO trust him. And those of my friends who’ve been long-time activists on behalf of GLBT  rights, people who know how tough these fights still are, trust him too.