Gay Democrats are using their wallets to pressure President Obama, while liberal groups are asking him to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a national security issue.
Several top donors have boycotted Democratic National Committee fundraisers and promised the party would feel the financial pain.
Despite pressure from Democrats and liberal groups, the administration has swatted down calls for Mr. Obama to exert executive authority and halt discharges happening at a rapid clip under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military.
The fundraising pressure started with frustration over the Obama administration’s Justice Department defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a legal brief.
Mr. Obama has said he wants to repeal the act. But the language in the brief — comparing same-sex marriage to incest, for example — has been labeled by many as indefensible and offensive, and wealthy gay activists are warning they will keep withholding money.
“Unfortunately, I will see everything that the Obama administration does for LGBT Americans through the lens of the DOMA brief,” Stampp Corbin, a San Diego city commissioner and former co-chairman of the Obama campaign’s LGBT Leadership Council, wrote on his blog. “Mr. President, … [y]ou better get LGBT affirming legislation moving quickly or the coffers of the LGBT community will be slammed shut on the fingers of your administration and the DNC.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he was not aware of internal discussions involving the language in the Justice Department brief and that he did not know whether the language was cleared by Mr. Obama, but he has said the Justice Department is required to argue in favor of government laws.
A Capitol Hill arts shop this weekend will have live music and food to urge gays and lesbians to “redirect their dollars” from Thursday’s DNC fundraiser to a gay-friendly film festival Reel Affirmations. Donors will send a “regrets card” to the DNC to alert the party to the frustration.
As the gay rights efforts increase in size and scope, the White House seems to be responding. Mr. Obama will speak to gays and lesbians Monday and face questions about the next steps he’s promised following the extension of some benefits to gay federal workers.
Among those steps may be including gay couples in the 2010 census, but members of Congress and activists want Mr. Obama to go further with either an executive order on the military ban or telling the Pentagon to stop investigating reports of gay service members.
Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress said it’s unacceptable that 265 people have been discharged under the ban since Mr. Obama took office in January. “Readiness is going to suffer and people’s lives could get lost,” he said.
Recently, 77 members of Congress — 76 Democrats and one Florida Republican — wrote to Mr. Obama, saying they “stand ready” to assist him with the repeal, calling the 1990s-era law “misguided, unjust and flat-out discriminatory.”
They said national security “will continue to suffer” if the president waits until 2010 or 2011 to take action and asked that he direct the Pentagon not to investigate any outings of gay service members.
Mr. Gibbs repeatedly said Thursday that Mr. Obama believes “the only and best way to do this is through a durable comprehensive legislative process,” meaning the duty falls to Congress. Already, 149 lawmakers already have co-sponsored a bill to end the ban on gay troops.
The White House won’t say when the repeal might become reality, but aides say the president remains committed to repealing the military ban and DOMA and would sign bills repealing each.
“Anybody who works in Washington who tells you a specific timeline is kidding you because a timeline is when you get 218 votes in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate,” said John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking openly gay member of the administration. “That’s the rules of the road.”
A White House spokesman said Mr. Obama had long planned the Monday gathering with gay families, volunteers, activists and community leaders as part of Pride Month.
But Thursday, the administration got the cold shoulder as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke to the LGBT Leadership Council at Washington’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
About 50 protesters with signs reading “Shame” urged attendees to turn away, but openly gay Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, said she wanted to express frustration both outside and inside the event.
Despite the prominent Stonewall Democratic Club and other top donors sitting out of the fundraiser, the event raised about $1 million for the national party, a larger haul than last year.
Mr. Biden took the dust-up head-on, pledging that the administration wants “true equality for all our people” and adding, “I don’t blame you for your impatience.”
He received an ovation for pledging the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and DOMA.
On Tuesday, fundraiser activists at Fenway Park greeted Mr. Biden with signs that read: “No Gay Rights, No $.” The protest was organized by a Facebook group, which declared, “Money talks, folks.”
“If the Obama administration and the Dems want to tamper down frustrations, the only way for them to do so will be to take concrete strong action to pass substantive LGBT civil rights measures,” the organizers wrote.
Mr. Korb, of the Obama-friendly Center for American Progress, detailed a report Wednesday with “practical steps” to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” starting with an executive order to end the discharges and then sending or endorsing legislation to repeal the law.
“THE longer you wait the harder it’s going to be. You lose the momentum,” he said, citing a University of California at Los Angeles study suggesting 4,000 members of the military leave because they “don’t want to live with the pressure.” The study also showed 40,000 homosexuals want to enlist but don’t for fear of being kicked out.
In all, more than 12,500 gay members of the military have been discharged in the 15 years since the ban became law.
Michael B. Keegan, president of liberal-leaning group People For the American Way praised Mr. Obama’s oratorical ability to bridge social divides on the tough issues of race, abortion and religious freedom, saying it’s now “time to make that speech” on gay rights.
“You have shied from promoting the vision of equality that you articulated during your campaign,” he wrote in a letter to the president. “The lack of your leadership on these issues damages both America’s sense of fairness and the credibility of your administration.”
Gay rights group Equality Maryland is asking supporters to write to Mr. Obama, reminding him to “be the fierce advocate you promised.”