Missed opportunities add up to a Promise Broken
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to "use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws." On Dec. 7, 2009, we ruled this promise Stalled, saying that while the president hadn't backtracked on his positions, a review of statements and documents by the White House suggested that it would be an exaggeration to say he has used his bully pulpit to advance the cause.
We're now ready to strengthen our ruling to Promise Broken. We've concluded that Obama has not just failed to push states toward equality for same-sex families; he's failed to do so despite being presented with numerous opportunities in the states that would have provided him an obvious forum for doing so.
After our original rating appeared, one reader noted that state-based developments occurred on a wide range of dates between April and December 2009. During that span, Vermont, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., legalized same-sex marriage; Colorado, Washington state, Nevada and Wisconsin legalized domestic partnerships; and either the voters or the courts in California, Maine and New York acted to reject same-sex marriage. Any one of these events would have provided the president with an opportunity to use the bully pulpit, as Obama promised.
But he failed to do so.
We'll stipulate that the president did raise the issue in an Oct. 10, 2009, speech to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group:
"I support ensuring that committed gay couples have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country. I believe strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal rights to gay couples. ... And I've called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and to pass the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act. And we must all stand together against divisive and deceptive efforts to feed people's lingering fears for political and ideological gain."
However, making such comments to a group that lobbies on behalf of those policies does not strike us as using the presidential bully pulpit. That, we believe, would require reaching out -- repeatedly -- to a broader audience that is not already supporting those policies. But he hasn't done that.
We would likely be more lenient with the president if he'd made a promise that required a tangible act, such as passage of legislation or the signing of an executive order. But instead, he merely promised to use the "bully pulpit" -- something he can do any day of the week. If the president does make a high-profile endorsement of same-sex marriage and adoption equality in the future, we'll change our rating. But for now, we conclude that his near-silence on the issue justifies a rating of Promise Broken.
Barack Obama, remarks to a dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, Oct. 10, 2009
Same-sex adoption awaits the full bully-pulpit treatment
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to "use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws." While he hasn't backtracked on his support of gay adoption, a review of statements and documents by the White House suggests that it would be an exaggeration to say he has used his bully pulpit to advance the cause.
On Sept. 28, 2009, Obama issued an official proclamation for Family Day 2009. In it, he explicitly referenced gay families. "Our family provides one of the strongest influences on our lives. American families from every walk of life have taught us time and again that children raised in loving, caring homes have the ability to reject negative behaviors and reach their highest potential. Whether children are raised by two parents, a single parent, grandparents, a same-sex couple, or a guardian, families encourage us to do our best and enable us to accomplish great things."
That statement didn't specifically address adoption by same-sex couples, but a separate statement on Oct. 30, 2009, did, albeit in oblique language. In a proclamation celebrating National Adoption Month, Obama wrote, "America is a country rich in resources and filled with countless caring men and women who hope to adopt. These individuals come from all walks of life, united in their commitment to love a child who is in need of the protective arms of a parent. We must do more to ensure that adoption is a viable option for them. By continually opening up the doors to adoption, and supporting full equality in adoption laws for all American families, we allow more children to find the permanent homes they yearn for and deserve."
The reference to "supporting full equality in adoption laws for all American families" is consistent with his promise, and with other comments he made before becoming president, but it is little more than a brief and parenthetical restatement of his previously stated views.
Finally, on Nov. 23, 2009, Joshua DuBois, the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, posted an item on the White House Web site titled, "Celebrating National Adoption Day." Despite offering the White House a prime opportunity to bring up the issue, the post didn't mention adoption by same-sex couples at all.
We concede that Obama merely promised to "use his bully pulpit" on the issue of same-sex adoption -- a reality dictated by the limits of his authority over state governments on this issue. Still, Obama's public statements on the matter -- when he has made them at all -- have been limited and were done almost in passing. So we are not convinced that he has truly used his bully pulpit to its full extent on this issue. If that changes, we'll adjust our rating, but for now, we'll call it Stalled.