If You're Not with Us... Obama Fights Battle with Gay Community

Try as he might, President Obama may not be able to retain the benefit of the doubt with the gay community much longer.

Despite signing a memorandum Wednesday night expanding certain benefits to cover the same-sex partners of federal employees, the president is in the midst of losing the confidence of gay rights advocates who feel the memorandum is weak and pandering. .

Obama touted his memorandum as an "historic step," saying, "Many of our government's hard-working and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason: the people that they love are of the same sex."

But the president acknowledged it was just the first step. 

The memorandum extends long-term care insurance, for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, to same-sex partners of federal employees and affords employees the right to "use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children."

It also provides some protections for partners of foreign service employees serving abroad and protects against discrimination in the workplace based on non-work-related factors.

But activists are bluntly exposing a giant hole in these benefits -- the memorandum does not cover the federal health insurance, retirement or survivor benefits that heterosexual couples receive.

In order to secure those benefits for members of the lesbian, bay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community, Obama must go to Congress. And that's just what he said he'll do; embracing for the first time a specific piece of legislation called the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act.

But it's not the legislation that he's supporting that members of the LGBT community are focusing on, it's the law they want repealed. The Defense of Marriage Act is the true focal point of this political battle. Also known as DOMA, it's a 1996 law which specifically prohibits extending health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Obama wants to repeal it too, and said as much Wednesday night, "I believe it's discriminatory, I think it interferes with states' rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it." 

Activists want more than talk, however. They want action; something the administration isn't promising will be achieved any time soon.

Compounding the president's problems is the fact that his own Justice Department is defending that very law in court. In a legal brief filed last week, the Justice Department argued that DOMA was in fact constitutional, citing incest and underage spouses in making that case. 

That language infuriated gay rights supporters. But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday, "The Justice Department is charged with upholding the law of the land, even though the president believes that that law should be repealed."

Not all members of the LGBT community are unhappy with the president's first administrative foray into the gay rights debate. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the memorandum is "a welcome and long overdue movement towards bringing the government's policies in line with the overwhelming majority of America's businesses."