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Gay community bitterly disappointed by Obama's lack of action

WASHINGTON - Gays and lesbians voted for President Barack Obama almost en masse after he pledged to be a relentless advocate for their civil rights while making his run for the White House.

WASHINGTON - Gays and lesbians voted for President Barack Obama almost en masse after he pledged to be a relentless advocate for their civil rights while making his run for the White House.

But now the disappointment felt among the gay community about Obama's inaction on issues that include same-sex marriage and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is turning into outright anger.

"It's disgraceful ... shame on him," Kate Waldeck, a 26-year-old medical student in New York City who voted for Obama believing he represented change on issues affecting the community.

The outrage is growing in the aftermath of last week's California Supreme Court decision to uphold the state's same-sex marriage ban.

Obama has had nothing to say about the ruling, something that has stung many in the community who had assumed he might speak out against it and reiterate his commitment to their cause.

"I had sincerely hoped that Obama, both as a liberal and as a minority, might view this issue for what it is: an attempt at decency, and an opportunity to bestow long-deserved freedoms to people who have suffered through abuse and discrimination since the beginning of time," Waldeck said in a recent interview.

Instead, Waldeck alleges, Obama is "sacrificing our lives to appease people, voters, interest groups, by allowing hate and bias to propagate."

The Propublica website, an online newsroom founded by the former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, has discovered that the White House site has recently deleted significant content detailing Obama's past remarks and senatorial voting record on gay and lesbian issues.

Among the material removed was a quote from June 2007 in which Obama said the issue of civil rights for gays and lesbians was too often "exploited by those seeking to divide us."

"But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."

Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006, an act which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

While on the campaign trail, Obama also frequently railed against the military's so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a federal law that prohibits openly gay Americans from serving.

The policy has resulted in long-standing military officials getting kicked out of the army, including much-needed Arabic translators. The Pentagon recently said they would continue with the policy.

Obama's virtual silence on both issues comes at a period of time when public opinion surveys suggest the majority of Americans are still opposed to same-sex marriage, although they have no problem with gays serving in the military.

A recent Gallup poll found 57 per cent of Americans are against same-sex marriage. But support for such unions has been steadily growing for years, particularly among those 40 and under.

Lorri Jean, the executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, wrote an open letter to Obama late last week, taking him to task for dropping the ball on issues concerning the gay community.

"We've waited for the slightest sign you would live up to your promise to be a 'fierce advocate' for our equal rights while watching gay and lesbian members of the armed forces, who have never been more needed, get discharged from the military," she wrote.

"And so far you have done nothing. No stop loss order. No call to cease such foolish and discriminatory actions."

Michael Rowe, a Canadian journalist and author who's written about the simmering rage on the Huffington Post website, says the western world is watching Obama on the issue.

Canada, in particular, looks progressive and civilized compared to its southern neighbour, Rowe said Sunday from his home in Toronto.

"We're always comparing ourselves to Americans, sometimes negatively, and this puts in stark contrast the fundamental differences between Canada and the United States," said Rowe, the author of "Other Men's Sons."

"Same-sex marriage was not put up to a vote in Canada, and discriminating against gays in the military was outlawed almost overnight ... we had a very Canadian, very reasoned and calm approach to both issues, and we have a hell of a lot to be proud of."

The U.S. is eventually heading there too, Rowe forecasts, thanks to a gay community that has come together to put up a concerted and pitched battle for civil rights.

"It's a new generation in the gay community and they're really well-organized, they're sick of being yanked around and they're angry," he said.

"What's also happening is it's finally striking a chord with mainstream America, with mainstream legislators, with people who aren't gay. And what they're saying, especially on 'don't ask, don't tell,' is that this is just ridiculous and shameful," said Rowe.

Waldeck predicts historians will not treat Obama kindly as they look back upon a modern-day civil rights battle.

"He's placing himself on the wrong side of history," she said. "These rights will eventually be obtained, and those who fight to classify any law-abiding citizen as unequal under the law will be seen as close-minded fools who fought to deny others out of malice and fear."

 
 
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