Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama: A Response to Your Defense of DOMA


June 16, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Yesterday, I received an email from you at your mybarackobama.com website, asking me to contribute to the campaign for healthcare reform.

I am intently interested in healthcare reform, and it’s one of many items in your agenda that I wholeheartedly support, and for which I held great hope when I cast my vote for you. Though I am without either a full-time job or healthcare coverage myself, I contributed to your campaign as I could, and had a large Obama yard sign prominently (and proudly) displayed during the election.

I couldn’t have been happier when you were elected. I am, however, now deeply disappointed—ashamed would not be too strong—at your lack of leadership in the area of human rights. I will not be contributing to the healthcare reform campaign, and I intend to withdraw my energies from all other initiatives your administration spearheads, until I see substantive change in the human rights area.

I am appalled and disheartened by your failure to fulfill your promise to end DADT, when a record 63% of Americans (of all political stripes and religious persuasions) indicate that they support the abolition of this unjust, discriminatory prohibition against military service by openly gay soldiers. Despite your administration’s misleading statements about how it would require legislative action to end the program, you can end it today with a stroke of your pen, if you choose to do so.

And you promised to do so, if elected, and to do so with all deliberate speed. Your violation of your campaign promise about DADT and your administration’s misleading statements about a step that is morally mandated, if any of your progressive initiatives are to be convincing, have shaken my confidence in you as a leader—to the very core.

I didn’t realize just how much that confidence could be shaken, though, until I read the brief your Department of Justice has just submitted in defense of DOMA. What a shoddy, corrupt piece of work—and from an administration whose leader claims to oppose DOMA. I am appalled not just at your choice to defend legislation you are not obliged to defend, or your choice to follow the same approach the previous administration took in defending DOMA, or the brief’s invidious comparison of gay marriage with incest.

I am appalled most of all by the deliberate, concerted attack of this document on the moral legitimacy of the movement for gay rights. In one respect after another, the brief seeks to convince its readers that the struggle by gay persons and those who stand in solidarity with us for gay rights lacks the legitimacy, the moral legitimacy, of other struggles for rights by other oppressed minorities.

As you must know, attacking the moral legitimacy of the struggle for rights of a minority oppressed because of some innate characteristic over which it has no control assaults the personhood of those attacked. When I listened to you speaking before you were elected, I was inspired. I caught your vision of hope and change.

I did so because I believed that, out of your own experience with marginalization and discrimination, you understood what those social forces do to the lives of others who are shoved to the margins. I believed that your experiences had led you to a moral commitment to overturn unjust discrimination in a society in which it has no place, if we adhere to the insights of the foundational documents of our nation.

I have lived in this country 51 of my 59 years (the others I spent in graduate school in Canada). During all of those years, I have lived as a second-class citizen whose humanity has been treated as second-class, even when I have contributed in every way possible to the communities in which I have lived. I have paid taxes, taught in universities, served on boards of service-oriented organizations, written and published books, made major donations to groups in need, done everything I can think of to contribute to my community and to build a better world.

And when all is said and done, experience after experience has reminded me in the final analysis that I am just another faggot, undeserving of the same respect given to others. I have seen my contributions freely taken and used by those who refuse to afford me job security, who have deprived me of a livelihood and health coverage, simply because I am gay.

Through it all, my life partner of nearly 40 years and I have continued to struggle to live with as much dignity and self-respect as we can muster, though our commitment to each other has no legal recognition and receives no support from the countless structures (legal, social, economic, religious, etc.) that support heterosexual couples and their families. To the contrary, we have had to fight to maintain our longstanding committed relationship and our family life in the face of one assault after another not only on our human dignity, but on our love for each other and our life together.

I have never felt more like leaving the country of my birth than I do now, after your administration’s defense of DOMA. I am deeply ashamed of what you have done so quickly to your platform based on hope and change. I am ashamed to have placed false hope in a leader whose administration can demonstrate the kind of egregious violation of fundamental principles of human rights that your defense of DOMA has done.

Once again: in response to your request yesterday that I donate to your healthcare reform campaign, I am choosing not to donate. I am a lifelong Democrat who have voted only once in my entire life for a Republican candidate. During the Civil Rights struggle, I worked hard in defense of the rights of African Americans, and I opposed those who argued that the process of granting rights to oppressed minorities should be slow, deliberate, careful—in short, that it should be deferred for as long as possible.

Despite my longstanding commitment to the Democratic party and my joy at the election of our first African-American president, I am now choosing to withdraw all my energies from further support of your administration. You have demonstrated to me through your behavior since you were elected—and above all, by the DOMA brief—that you do not regard my humanity as equal to yours. I find such behavior astonishing from the first African-American president, from a president who claimed as he campaigned to stand for progressive values that mean much to me.

I have given fifteen years of service to historically black colleges and universities, because of my commitment to the rights of African Americans and my determination to do what I can to create opportunities for a group of my fellow citizens who have endured harsh discrimination in this country for generations.

I value your humanity and your human rights. But you have communicated to me that you do not value my humanity and my human rights.

Since that is the case, why would I be foolish enough to continue offering support to you and your administration?

Respectfully yours,

William D. Lindsey

W.D. Lindsey.