Gays Needn't Depend on the Kindness of Presidents.

The Washington Post has a story today about the incremental changes the Obama administration has made on gay rights, including:

  • extending health-care and day-care benefits to gay couples;
  • barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in applying for federal housing;
  • including information about same-sex couples in the census;
  • and requiring hospitals to allow gays to visit their partners.

The piece praises the administration's piecemeal approach.

"While many of the items of concern to the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community require Congress to act, the president has also taken many steps that don't require a change in the law," said Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman.

The problem is that none of these rule changes, or "reinterpretations," are permanent. Unless Congress actually passes legislation to ensure gay people have these rights, they could disappear as soon as we get a social conservative in the White House. Sure, all of this is a good stopgap, but it's discouraging to see the administration once again asking for credit on what are, let's face it, very modest moves. It's no longer any sort of breakthrough for the president to appoint a gay ambassador.

I've been critical of gay-rights lobbying organizations for not concentrating enough on substantive, long-term wins. The hate-crimes legislation that was passed last year is a good symbolic victory, but on the two most important pieces of gay-rights legislation -- the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- we've seen the administration do little more than pass the ball to Congress.

-- Gabriel Arana

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