Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why can't Obama be more like Charlie Crist?

So a year ago I never would have asked such a question! But this week brings us diametrically opposing decisions from these two executives. Both executives had to decide whether to appeal court rulings striking down a statute as unconstitutional. Florida Governor Charlie Crist decided not to appeal the Florida Court of Appeals ruling that the state's ban on lesbian and gay adoptions is unconstitutional. Obama, on the other hand, has appealed two lower court rulings striking down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that requires the federal government to treat gay couples as unmarried even when they actually are married in the state where they live. Writing about Obama's decision, National Center for Lesbian Rights legal director Shannon Minter states that
there is no honor in defending a blatantly unconstitutional law. There is no shame in letting a decision striking down such a law stand. There is no duty to defend a morally and legally bankrupt law. President Obama’s belief that he must defend DOMA is no doubt sincere, but it is mistaken.

I would not necessarily attribute Obama's decision to his sincere belief that he must defend DOMA. More likely his decision is political, as was the decision of Bill Clinton to sign DOMA in the first place. Congress sent DOMA to Clinton (along with "welfare reform") within three months of his bid for reelection in 2006. While I assume he had a sincere belief that "welfare reform" was appropriate (and that is a true shame on his presidency), I doubt he wanted to sign DOMA. He was a sincere gay rights ally, but it would have been political disaster to veto this bill handed him by a Republican Congress. Although it's not Obama who's on the ballot next month, it's unlikely he would want to give Republicans one more basis for attacking him and by extension any Democrat running for office.

On the other hand, Crist is on the Florida ballot (running for Senate as an Independent), which makes it extra-interesting that he sees no down-side to his decision to eliminate the adoption ban without a final ruling from the state's highest court. It's especially interesting because the Florida attorney general may still appeal on his own, a decision he has until next week to make.

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