- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2010

CORAL GABLES, Fla. | A smattering of gay rights protesters dogged President Obama as he raised money in South Florida on Monday - the latest in a series of protests from advocates who say he hasn’t done enough to reverse the military’s ban on openly gay troops.

That policy stands as one of Mr. Obama’s as-yet unfulfilled promises, and has turned into a simmering political issue heading into November’s elections. Some gay rights activists say the president hasn’t done enough, either on his own or in pushing Congress to act, but the administration is taking a deliberate approach.

Monday’s protest, in which activists from GetEQUAL used air horns to try to draw attention away from a fundraiser at former basketball star Alonzo Mourning’s mansion, is not the first time gay rights protesters have tried to publicly embarrass the president over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” (DADT) the military policy that has governed gay troops’ service since the Clinton administration.

After promising during the campaign to end the policy, Mr. Obama initiated a Pentagon review of it soon after taking office, initially arguing that the military should have a chance to examine possible effects before the policy is reversed. He later tweaked that position to support a congressional proposal that would automatically eliminate the ban if the Defense Department concluded it would have no detrimental impact.

That effort failed last month as Senate Republicans filibustered a defense policy bill that would have overturned “don’t ask, don’t tell,” contingent on the Pentagon’s review concluding it was feasible to do so.

This weekend Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, told the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner they’ll continue trying to force lawmakers to act.

“We’ve got to keep pushing the Senate to do the right thing and get this done,” she said, a year after Mr. Obama addressed the same gathering and repeated his pledge to end the policy.

Gay rights activists say that’s not enough. Noting the administration’s defense in court of both “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the Defense of Marriage Act, they argue Mr. Obama and his top aides have enough power to take unilateral steps on the issue, such as halting the dismissal of openly gay service members.

“Regardless of the spin coming out of the White House, President Obama has the power to dramatically impact the course of civil rights history for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL. “Unfortunately, all we have yet to see from the president, who the LGBT community overwhelmingly supported, is excuses, delays and passing the buck off to someone else. That isn’t change we can believe in, that’s just more of the same.”

It’s not clear, though, whether the White House will mount a serious push for the Senate to take another swing at DADT after Congress reconvenes for a postelection session.

Indeed, Democrats face a tough choice. The lame-duck congressional to-do list is already impressively long - including consideration of the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts and government spending bills - but waiting until next year reduces the chances that anything will be done on the issue, given that Republicans are widely expected to gain seats, and possibly the majority of one or both chambers.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which is fighting to uphold the ban on gay service members, said she expects gay rights supporters to try again, but said, “it will not succeed.”

She said the Defense Department’s review has been designed to try to push a transition to allowing gay troops, but she said lawmakers will reject that.

“Members of the Senate will see through that, since military personnel were limited to discussions of how to implement repeal, not whether the law should be retained,” she said.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara, dedicated to studying sexuality and the military, said it’s possible that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid overreached by trying to attach immigration legislation to the defense policy bill, giving Republicans another reason to filibuster it.

But he said Democratic leaders aren’t to blame for the legislative stalemate - rather, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did a masterful job of marshaling his own party.

“The reason that the defense authorization did not go through - it was not Harry Reid and it was not Barack Obama, it was the Republicans, not being bad people, but just doing their job in an election year,” he said.

The question for November is whether gay rights supporters - usually a strong voting bloc for Democrats - feel their expectations have been met.

Mr. Belkin said he thinks those voters will credit Democrats for adding sexual orientation to hate-crimes laws last year, rather than protest the shortcomings this year, and he said gay voters will turn out.

“I think that the percentages will be roughly the same as they’ve been in the past in terms of three-fourths voting for Democrats and a fourth voting for Republicans. You certainly don’t see the fire in the belly you saw two years ago and four years ago for Democrats, but I don’t anticipate the gay community will stay home,” he said.

c Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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