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Obama Faces Gay Groups' Growing Anger

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
The anger from gay rights advocates toward President Obama is starting to boil over.

On Monday, Joe Solmonese, the president of the establishment gay rights group The Human Rights Campaign, sent an angry letter to the president objecting to the decision by the Obama Justice Department to file a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act.

"I realized that although I and other LGBT leaders have introduced ourselves to you as policy makers, we clearly have not been heard, and seen, as what we also are: human beings whose lives, loves, and families are equal to yours," Solmonese wrote. "I know this because this brief would not have seen the light of day if someone in your administration who truly recognized our humanity and equality had weighed in with you."

The Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, mandates (1) that the federal government not recognize same-sex marriages and (2) that states not be forced to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Mr. Obama vowed to repeal DOMA as a presidential candidate but he has not taken any action to do so since becoming president. The Justice Department brief calls the legislation a "valid exercise of Congress' power" and says it is "reasonable and rational for Congress to maintain its longstanding policy of fostering this traditional and universally-recognized form of marriage."

"The government does not state why denying us basic protections promotes anyone else's marriage, nor why, while our heterosexual neighbors' marriages should be promoted, our own must be discouraged," Solmonese writes in his letter.

He goes onto single out a portion of the brief referencing a case involving "marriage of uncle to niece" to support the Justice position.

"I cannot overstate the pain that we feel as human beings and as families when we read an argument, presented in federal court, implying that our own marriages have no more constitutional standing than incestuous ones," he writes.

After the brief was filed, Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that while the president has said he is committed to repealing DOMA, "until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system."

But the president, who is wary of opening up a fight over social issues that could endanger his ambitious agenda on health care and other issues, has not asked Congress to do so. And as blogger and gay rights advocate John Aravosis points out, Justice has chosen not to defend laws in the past, undercutting the implication that the department had no choice but to do so.

As reported earlier this month, the president has also declined to take action on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military, despite campaign promises to do so. While the administration has suggested it is working with the military to repeal the policy responsibly, the Pentagon says there have not been any serious discussions along those lines.

Many of the staffers in the Obama White House also served under President Bill Clinton, and they remember well how much political capital taking on gay rights cost Clinton early in his administration. But while gay rights advocates signaled sympathy to those concerns early in the Obama administration, their patience appears to be running out. (The picture above comes from a gay rights rally late last month.)

It should be noted that there do appear to be efforts on behalf of gay Americans in the works: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday he is looking to pass hate crimes legislation before the August recess, and the extension of benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees is said to be on the way. But these are widely viewed as significant but relatively minor potential victories, and are not likely to quiet the growing anger among gay advocates if they do go through.

To do that, the president would likely need to take action on either DOMA or "don't ask, don't tell." And that probably won't happen anytime soon. On Sunday, John Berry, who is director of Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking gay official under Mr. Obama, told The Advocate that the administration plans to take action on both DOMA and "don't ask," as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill, "before the sun sets on this administration."

Asked if that timeframe included a second term, Berry said, "I say this in a broad sense -- our goal is to get this done on this administration's watch."

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