With the 2012 presidential elections quickly approaching, the nation has witnessed President Barack Obama rushing follow through with the promises made during his campaign.
Democrats grinned and bore through the bank bailouts, the extensions of the Bush-era tax cuts, and seeing 30,000 additional troops pour into Afghanistan. But now the compromised, freewheeling Obama administration is finally turning its attention to gay rights.
Hot on the heels of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, last week Obama openly criticized the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), saying that the law is “unconstitutional.”
DOMA places federal restrictions on marriage to legally recognize only unions between one man and one woman. The law affected 1,138 federal programs in which marital status was a factor in eligibility for benefits, according to a 2004 federal report. Ever since it was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, DOMA has received heated criticism from gay rights activists as unfair and immoral.
Obama’s stance, as backed by Attorney General Eric Holder, marks the strongest domestic policy move the president has made regarding gay rights. The calls on the Justice Department to simply stop defending DOMA would also be one of the largest stretches of Obama’s executive power to date, something conservatives like Newt Gingrich have come to see as an “impeachable offense.”
While it may be a large stretch, it is not unheard of.
In 1990, the administration of President George H.W. Bush ceased to defend federal laws that set a preference to awarding broadcasting rights to minority-owned businesses. For an added twist, the Justice Department’s attorney who refused to defend the laws was John Roberts, now chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Thus, it is a little absurd to suggest, as Gingrich has, that the president’s actions warrant an impeachment.
The question the Obama administration faces is simple: Can moral legislation be considered lawful? While Obama has stated that he didn’t “believe” in gay marriage in the past, his “evolving” campaign agenda did include pushing for the states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws.
The absence of a unified consensus from both chambers of Congress — having lost the House to a Republican majority in the midterm elections — it is clear that Obama lacks the necessary tools to properly implement his agenda.
This is why gay rights advocates should be speculative about this being their “watershed moment.” As it stands, repealing DOMA is an uphill battle in the House. Furthermore, pending the upcoming 2012 presidential election, a different president could always readopt defending DOMA — as has been the case for the last 15 years.
In lieu of a stronger call for the states to individually recognize same-sex marriage — as Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire have done — the president must push for a more concrete solution to be put in place.