The DOJ and DOMA and … Outrage?

Today, this happened:

Now, in a legal brief submitted to a federal judge, Obama’s Department of Justice, writing in the name of the United States government, whose CEO is Barack Obama, argues that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is appropriate, carefully balanced and justified by reason, and not by animus toward gay people. A lot of the same rhetoric used to justify actual discrimination against gays is cited in the brief as a reason why DOMA is necessary. (Child abuse precedents, all of that.) The brief even resorts to the argument that DOMA doesn’t deny gays anything because they’re still entitled to all the benefits that heterosexuals get — if they act heterosexually. The brief also suggests that gays accessing federal benefits will be free riders.

Needless to say, studied silence by gay groups, who have been counseled by the White House to be patient, seems to giving way to out-loud expressions of anger. (That this weekend marks DC Pride shouldn’t be overlooked; gay people are in a mood to celebrate their status as persons.)

I’m starting to get just a little cynical about basically anything the federal government has to say about LGBT rights—I barely blinked when this news came out earlier this afternoon. I don’t even know quite what to say in response to it now, but I feel as if I should because the blogosphere is so angry. It’s very weird: here I am living and working in Washington, DC, at a progressive think tank. I see more LGBT people in my work environment and just walking around (despite the fact that I live in Georgetown!) than I do in any of the other places I’ve lived. This weekend, I will indeed be going to Capital Pride, celebrating my status as a person. And it makes sense to me, somehow, that there are still battles in Princeton or in my neighborhood in San Diego. It makes sense to me that there are still battles in red states and in the more rural areas of blue states. But I look around Washington and I see such a major disconnect between real life in this city and the policy of the governing bodies that operate here—something which I suspect will only become more apparent at Pride this weekend. I just can’t wrap my mind around how out-of-date the policies of the Washington government are, so out-of-sync with the real world of Washington or indeed of America.

This reminds me of the historians’ brief in Lawrence v. Texas (which I’ve discussed before), or that in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (the MA marriage decision), or any number of other arguments supporting LGBT equality legislation or court rulings over the years: popular sentiment moves ahead of the government, it seems, and the government needs to be told that it’s behind the times and now needs to catch up. It’s the same with the data suggesting that an overwhelming majority of Americans support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: I know that in reference to LGBT issues, the military has repeatedly said that it does not move ahead of the arc of social progress, but how can the presidential administration maintain that LGBT soldiers are a threat to “unit cohesion” when the arc of social progress has moved so far beyond that stance?

I ramble; it’s the end of a long first work week and my mind has turned to jelly. I guess that the thing is, I’m not outraged, as I have been outraged before by homophobia-prompted suicides, by hate crimes, by even op-eds in the Daily Princetonian. I’m just confused, by this most recent DOMA stance and by everything that seems to happen on the federal level these days. Maybe this is just my little gay microcosm, and maybe I’m just delusional, but it seems to me as if policies which enshrine the belief that LGBT Americans are somehow abnormal or fundamentally different from their straight compatriots are desperately out of sync with the real world as I know it.

UPDATE: Sullivan has more, including the text of the brief in question, and it’s even more alarming. I haven’t read the brief yet, but I will, and I’ll be sure to rant about it, never fear. How strange, it bears repeating, to juxtapose this with this weekend’s Capital Pride.

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