Obama Throws a Crumb to the Gay Community

While some gay activists have praised the benefits package, their response has by and large been relatively restrained. "Thrilled for federal employees," Mixner remains outraged by the brief filed in support of DOMA. Other gay commentators, on both sides of the political aisle, contend the package doesn't go nearly far enough. Both blogger John Aravosis, whose left-wing Americablog is one of the leading voices of the "netroots," and Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, which bill itself as "the only national gay conservative group," have called the plan a political ploy.

Describing the benefits package as the president's "attempt to silence his critics in the gay community," LaSalvia asks, "What kind of ‘benefits plan’ includes no actual benefits?” Contending that the "White House actually admitted to the NYT that they were offering the benefits to help contain the 'growing furor among gay rights groups,'" Aravosis believes the administration came up with the proposal "on the fly."

According to the Washington Post's Joe Davidson, however, this proposal was not adopted on the fly, but grew from "seeds planted last December during a meeting between gay rights advocates and the Obama transition team." Whatever the case, the timing certainly looks suspicious, given how quickly the announcement of this package follows the filing of the brief in the DOMA case and a number of articles on the growing "frustration" of gay groups with Obama’s inaction on his campaign promises to them.

If the president's goal in presenting this benefits package was to mollify the growing number of gay activists, including many of his erstwhile supporters upset with this inaction, he has clearly failed. Even in the wake of this announcement, the outrage of some has continued unabated. There appears to be no evidence that Mixner or Towle will attend the fundraising dinner they had once planned on attending. Mixner called the move "insulting." Towle dubbed the president's announcement "damage control," doubting it would "stop the bleeding."

While many gay activists were impressed by Obama's rhetoric during the campaign, many remain unimpressed by his accomplishments in office. They see this modest proposal as little more than a bone tossed in their general direction. When it comes to keeping his promises to the gay community, President Obama has a lot in common with Bill Clinton, his most recent Democratic predecessor.

He'll defer action when there's a political cost.

All that said, while the president's announcement of this benefits package at this particular time does seem to be an attempt to deal with the political fallout from his failure to fulfill his campaign promises, it is a step in the right direction -- and a pretty significant one at that. For the first time, the federal government has recognized the reality of same-sex relationships.

While, to some, that may not be enough, it is something.