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Gay rights group 'shocked' by Obama appeal of 'don't ask don't tell'

October 14, 2010 |  2:44 pm


President Obama got points with the pro-gay rights crowd from statements he made on a televised town hall meeting Thursday afternoon. At the same time he was also harshly criticized for the Department of Justice's appeal of "don't ask don't tell" right on the heels of his administration's appeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In what appears to be contradictory statements and actions to some, the President stood up in front of a studio filled with a diverse crowd of young people on Thursday and said that even though he felt he still needs to slow down the reversal of the "don't ask" policy, he didn't think being gay or transsexual was a choice and gays should not be discriminated against. "Obviously, I don't profess to be an expert," Obama said on a telecast delivered via Viacom's MTV, BET, and CMT channels. "I don't think it's a choice. I think people are born with a certain make up, and we're all children of God."

He said that despite the fact that his administration on Thursday, with the aid of a 48-page plea by the under secretary of defense, Clifford Lee, asked a Federal judge for an emergency stay on her recent ruling that the "don't ask don't tell" policy was unconstitutional.

Obamamtv Although Obama said on MTV that he believes that "we don't make determinations about who we love. That's why I think discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong," he appears to agree with under secretary that since we are at war we shouldn't ask the armed forces to quickly readjust their way of doing things. Lee argued to Judge Virginia Phillips that "the military should not be required to suddenly and immediately restructure a major personnel policy that has been in place for years, particularly during a time when the nation is involved in combat operations overseas." Adding, "the stakes here are so high, and the potential harm so great, that caution is in order."

Obama told the MTV audience that he doesn't even have the power to strike down the policy. "Congress explicitly passed a law that took away power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally," he said. Adding that he does not find himself in "a situation where with a stroke of the pen I can end this policy."

Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, released a statement Thursday saying that even if the executive branch cannot end the policy if Obama really supports gay rights his administration wouldn't have asked Judge Phillips for the emergency stay. Where is all the hopey changey stuff we were promised, McGehee asked, basically.

Today’s appeal by President Obama’s Department of Justice is not only indefensible -- it is yet another shocking lack of leadership from the White House on issues of equality for the LGBT community. Regardless of the White House’s claim that they had no choice in this matter, the fact is that there was no reason they had to move forward with appealing this decision today. For them to do so, particularly in the same week they also announced their appeal of the Defense of Marriage Act ruling that also found a section of that law unconstitutional, adds insult to injury for the relationship between President Obama and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Yet again, we are faced with action by this Administration that stands in stark contrast to the campaign rhetoric and lofty speeches about equality that continue to be served up as progress to our community. We’d like to say we’re still hoping in the change promised to us two years ago, but that hope is fading away quickly -- particularly when the lives and livelihoods of our brothers and sisters are on the line.

"Anybody should be able to serve, and they shouldn’t have to lie about who they are in order to serve," Obama told the studio audience. "But this isn’t a question about whether the policy will end," he said. "This policy will end, and it will end on my watch."

-- Tony Pierce

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Top photo: President Barack Obama participates in a youth town hall event broadcast live on BET, CMT and MTV networks on Thursday in Washington. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated  Press

Bottom photo: President Barack Obama speaks at a youth town hall where he addressed the "don't ask don't tell" policy among other issues. Credit: Jim Watson/ AFP/Getty Images