Anticipation keeps us on the edge of our seats during a movie’s culminating car chase, or at least fills us with a sense of promise for what the day will bring. It’s a feeling that mixes excitement and eagerness with a twinge of anxiety; after all, what we anticipate might happen may not actually come to fruition.
This has been the general feeling within the gay community-and perhaps within the larger population as well-toward Barack Obama’s still-young presidency. Sure, he’s got a lot on his plate, but the straight-shooting earnestness with which he made numerous campaign promises had most of us thinking he would fulfill a good number of them before his first year in office was over. January 2010 is approaching quickly, and many of us are still looking for that change we can believe in: closing Guantanamo, providing affordable health care, enacting stricter environmental guidelines, repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. It’s asking a lot, but Obama promised a lot. All this anticipation is starting to get to me; I want to see some action.
A few weeks ago, there were 24 golden hours of good news for civil rights. At a Human Rights Campaign dinner on Saturday, October 10, President Obama pledged anew to repeal both DOMA and DADT. “Gay Girl, were you born yesterday?” you might be thinking. “Obama’s just making another promise he likely won’t keep.” Although a good point, I would argue that promises made once someone’s elected as opposed to those made while someone’s trying to get elected hold more weight. Obama already won the popularity contest, and he got the gay vote, so these statements may lead to actual policy changes. This is a breath of fresh air for a community slighted by Obama even before day one-remember his choice of Pastor Rick Warren, the outspoken Proposition 8 supporter who compares consenting same-sex relationships to pedophilia and incest, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration?
The good vibes continued into the next day, at least in California, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed three key pieces of gay-rights legislation. The first provides expanded services to gay and lesbian domestic abuse victims, and goes into effect January 1. The Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act states that same-sex couples who wed prior to November’s passage of Prop. 8-no matter where-are entitled to full recognition as married spouses. It also validates out-of-state marriages performed after November ’08 by granting these couples equal protection and rights under California law, but without the specific designation of “marriage.”
Frankly, it was the third bill-which is more symbolic than anything else-that got me the most excited. It designated May 22 as a “day of special significance” to reflect on the contributions of slain politician Harvey Milk. A year ago, Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation, explaining that Milk was a San Francisco icon and should be celebrated on a community level. But the intervening months saw the biopic Milk win two Academy Awards, Obama grant Milk a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the governator induct Milk into the California Hall of Fame. Milk’s story rose to national prominence, and Schwarzenegger took note. His new approach to the bill reflected not only a personal change in attitude but also a general shift in mindset about Milk. Furthermore, it marks the first time in our country’s history that an openly gay person has been recognized officially by a state’s government.
Schwarzenegger’s signatures also illustrated the power of ordinary people getting involved. Equality California, the state’s largest gay rights advocacy organization, mobilized thousands of people who called or emailed the governor’s office in support of these three bills. There were a lot of factors that went into Schwarzenegger’s decisions, but all of this vociferous encouragement certainly didn’t hurt. It’s something to keep in mind when thinking about approaching Obama in regard to DOMA and DADT.
Those wonderful 24 hours sure provided a flurry of excitement for the gay community. Finally, some action to go with all of that anticipation.