White House bans gays from military families event

Anthony Maki Contributor
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Despite the legislative repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military in last year’s lame-duck session, the Obama administration is still keeping gays and lesbians at bay. Today, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden mark the beginning of their initiative supporting military families and will speak at a gathering at the White House.

A group that represents gay and lesbian troops, Servicemembers United, lodged their complaint with gay magazine The Advocate, saying that civilian representatives of gay and lesbian military families were kept from attending the event.

In an email to CBS News, the First Lady’s communications director Kristina Schake explained, “The President has been crystal clear that the Administration is moving forward with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ quickly and efficiently.”

“However, it still remains the law,” she continued. “The White House, including the First Lady and Dr. Biden, look forward to working with the families of gay and lesbian service members after certification occurs and repeal goes into effect.”

Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson noted the symbolic significance if the White House were to include gay and lesbian troops and their families in the activities.

“It would be a lot more practical to make a gesture of inclusion for the [White House] event than a gesture of inclusion for events around the country,” he said.

In March, a number of gay advocacy groups met with officials at the Department of Defense to talk about the ongoing efforts to implement the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” chief among them being service members’ benefits. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still on the books and prohibits federal recognition of same-sex relationships, and therefore also the administration of partner benefits.

DOMA is currently being challenged in several jurisdictions and appears to be on a path to the Supreme Court. For his part, President Obama declared in February that he would no longer defend the constitutionality of the 1996 law that Bill Clinton signed.

The patience — and trust — of gay advocacy groups has frequently been tested, after they supported Obama’s candidacy and his campaign promises to repeal DADT and DOMA. Obama recently remarked that his views on same-sex marriage are “evolving,” while during the campaign he supported only civil unions.

“Gay and lesbian military families should not have to fight this hard just to stand in the back of the room in 2011,” Nicholson said.