White House Staffers Concede ‘Frustration’ Over Administration’s Slow Action On Gay Rights

Last night, Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta moderated a panel at the American Constitution Society convention that included Lisa Brown, the White House staff secretary, and Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Biden.

Podesta asked the panelists about the concern that President Obama is not doing enough on gay rights, to which the crowd offered hearty applause. Podesta referenced a recent legal brief filed by the Obama administration which argued in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that Obama has said he would like to overturn.

Brown responded that the DOMA brief was “an awful lot better than the brief that was written in the Bush administration.” But, offering the disclaimer that she was merely giving her personal opinion, Brown continued:

There’s no question, personal statement, that there were some cites in there that should not have been in there. … They were trying to…essentially eliminate arguments actually that the Bush administration has made.

Brown conceded that the administration is “moving slowly” on gay rights. “Nobody thinks it’s fast enough right now, but I know the President cares about this. … It’s going in the right direction, if not quickly enough.” Klain agreed with Brown. “I understand the frustration,” he said, adding:

I hope next year when we have this conference and that question gets asked, it doesn’t elicit the same kind of applause that it elicited this time — because I hope we have more progress, more things to show for. And I hope the kind of applause it elicits a year from now is applause about the accomplishments we’ve made and the progress we’ve made in the ensuing year.

The crowd applauded, and Podesta said, “I hope you’re right.” Watch it:

AmericaBlog’s John Aravosis has argued that the Obama administration’s legal brief filed in the DOMA case is “despicable, and gratuitously homophobic.” Human Right Campaign’s Joe Solmonese penned a letter to Obama, stating that, “reading the brief, one is told again and again that same-sex couples are so unlike different-sex couples that unequal treatment makes sense.”


After initially criticizing the administration, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) sounded a more positive note. “I believe that the administration made a conscientious and largely successful effort to avoid inappropriate rhetoric,” he said.


Greg Sargent reports that the “Obama Justice Department has reached out to major gay rights organizations and scheduled a private meeting for next week with the groups, in an apparent effort to smooth over tensions in the wake of the controversy over the administration’s defense in court of the Defense of Marriage Act.”