The Obameter

Urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws

As president, "will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws."


Obama has promoted marriage equality, adoption rights

Since our last update in 2010, a lot has happened to extend equal rights to same-sex couples.

With President Barack Obama's support, the military rescinded the "don't ask, don't tell" rule for military service on Sept. 20, 2011. In May 2012, Obama publicly affirmed his support for gay marriage, saying, "I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

And on June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, called DOMA. After the ruling, Obama promised executive action to carry out the decision. "I've directed the attorney general to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly," he said.

>More recently, and perhaps most importantly, on June 25, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees same-sex marriage as a right. Obama hailed the move. "From extending full marital benefits to federal employees and their spouses, to expanding hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones, we've made real progress in advancing equality for LGBT Americans in ways that were unimaginable not too long ago," he said in a post-ruling statement.

This month, Michigan passed a law that allows state child-welfare agencies the ability to deny services to same-sex couples hoping to adopt or foster a child. Earlier this year, Texas and Alabama also proposed legislation permitting discrimination against adoption by same-sex couples on religious grounds. And in Mississippi, same-sex couples have been prohibited altogether from adopting children since 2010.

Obama has recently made remarks supporting same-sex couples in adopting children. In a presidential proclamation declaring May 2015 "National Foster Month," Obama discussed adoption and foster care rights. "With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster or adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status," he said on April 30, 2015.  

This proclamation echoed a verbatim statement Obama made in a proclamation declaring November 2011 "National Adoption Month." Since 2011, Obama has issued a similar proclamation every year, reiterating the importance of eliminating discriminatory barriers that limit the adoption rights of same-sex couples.

Since our last ruling, Obama has publicly endorsed same-sex marriage, as well as a same-sex couples ability to adopt on several different occasions. He's done the urging, and he's seen a lot of progress. For this reason, we rate this a Promise Kept.


The White House, Presidential Proclamation--National Foster Care Month, April 30, 2015

The White House, Presidential Proclamation--National Adoption Month, November 1, 2011

The Atlantic, "How Will the U.S. Supreme Court's Same-Sex- Marriage Decision Affect Religious Liberty?" Jun 26, 2015

New York Times, "Same-Sex Parents' Rights May Be Unresolved After Justices' Ruling," June 14, 2015

The White House,  Statement by the President on the Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, June 26, 2013

The White House,  Statement by the President on the Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, September 20, 2011

Movement Advancement Project, Foster and Adoption Laws, updated June 26, 2015.

Justia, 2010 Mississippi Code 93-17-3

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.


Barack Obama, Proclamation on Family Day, Sept. 28, 2009

Barack Obama, Proclamation on National Adoption Month, Oct. 30, 2009

Joshua DuBois, "Celebrating National Adoption Day" ( blog post ), Nov. 23, 2009