U.S. Justice Dept. Appoints Gay Liaison

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Aug 19, 2009

In a move seen a further attempt to repair relations with GLBT supporters, the Obama Administration's Justice Department has appointed a liaison to the gay community.

The new liaison, Matt Nosanchuk, will also serve as a member of the senior staff for the Justice Department, reported an Aug. 19 article at the Washington Post.

Nosanchuk will be expected to handle as many cases in general as his fellow Justice Department staffers, in addition to his work with GLBT constituents, the article said.

The article noted that the Justice Department also has a group dedicated to GLBT issues. Headed up by Loretta king, the group is a re-formed version of a similar committee that existed under Bill Clinton, but which was dissolved by the George W. Bush administration.

While Nosanchuk's appointment may have a practical benefit for the concerns of GLBT Americans--who have yet to see any federal law lend their community support through inclusive anti-discrimination or hate crimes legislation, but who have been subjected to two anti-gay federal laws, a military ban on openly gay troops and a federal-level exclusion from marital recognition--the symbolic meaning of the liaison is unmissable.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department submitted a legal brief in support of the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that specifies that only one man and one woman may be considered married by the federal government.

The brief was submitted to a California court where a lawsuit against DOMA has been filed by married couple Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, who wed during the six-month window between the start of marriage equality in California and the revocation of marriage rights for gay and lesbian families via popular vote last November.

The brief, reportedly authored in part by a Mormon staffer, W. Scott Simpson, who was hired during the Bush administration, compared the issue of marriage equality for gay and lesbian families to incest and pedophilia.

Those comparisons are often made by anti-gay religious activists, who also charge that marriage equality would lead to a loss of religious freedoms for people of faith, open the door to polygamy, and be morally on par with bestiality.

Last year, as a battle raged in California over a ballot initiative that put the rights of gay and lesbian families up to a popular vote, the Mormon church issued a call to its members to support the anti-gay measure with funds and volunteerism. The deep Mormon involvement in the ultimately successful bid to repeal existing rights for the gay community led to a national outcry.

The discovery of a decade-old document prepared by the Mormon leadership outlining strategies for preventing marriage rights in California subsequently emerged in the press, leading to a further outcry in Mormon involvement in faith-based attempts to rewrite civil law.

The controversial brief was seen by some among the GLBT leadership as evidence that the Obama administration was abandoning the gay and lesbian community after Obama's campaign rhetoric denounced anti-gay federal laws such as DOMA and the military ban on openly gay troops, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which allows gays and lesbians to serve in uniform only as long as they do not disclose their true sexuality.

Indeed, although it is traditional for existing laws to be supported with briefs from the Justice Department, even if the sitting President at the time does not personally agree with them, many saw the brief as engaging in excesses that transcended the often pro-forma nature of such filings.

As the head of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, Lorri Jean, put it in a story carried at EDGE last June 18, "The brief is appalling."

Echoing sentiments to which other GLBT leaders had given voice, Jean said, "If that is an example of Obama's 'fierce advocacy' on our behalf, I'd rather he go advocate for someone else.

"This brief went far beyond anything that might have been 'required' of the administration," added Jean.

"I worry that this is a revealing glimpse into the true sentiments of this administration."

Stated Jean, "It feels like a betrayal of all he has promised our community."

Obama also angered--and worried--gay supporters when he failed to address the California Supreme Court's ruling that upheld Proposition 8, the narrowly-approved ballot initiative that revoked marriage equality in the nation's most populous state.

The silence from the White House regarding the ruling convinced some GLBT leaders that the Obama administration was turning its back on the gay Americans Obama had courted while a candidate.

That, in turn, helped to prompt controversial actions, including a federal lawsuit against Proposition 8 and plans for a Columbus Day March on Washington that was organized by GLBT equality activist Cleve Jones.

Obama's defenders have insisted that the president has the best interests of GLBT Americans at heart, but that timing--and a host of other pressing issues--are factors in what GLBT equality advocates say is a too-slow response.

The administration has let it be known that Obama is reluctant to overturn DADT through an executive order, since that order is more vulnerable to reversal than a repeal of the law through Congressional action.

Following the flap over the DOMA brief, Obama met with GLBT leaders in the White House. Obama also announced that the families of gay and lesbian government workers will be allowed some benefits.

Obama also quelled gay and lesbian anger over a previously announced omission by the U.S. Census Bureau, which had said that it would not count gay and lesbian families in the 2010 census. The Census Bureau cited DOMA, which forbids the federal bureaucracy to recognize gay and lesbian marriages and other legal arrangements. Obama, however, reportedly worked with the Census Department to include gay households in its data.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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