In the last couple weeks, Polis, who won election to Congress last fall as an openly gay man, has been at the center of a controversy brewing over what gay-rights activists say is the Obama administration and Democratic Party leadership’s foot-dragging — and outright hostility — toward LGBT demands.
While pressure mounted for Polis and U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin to boycott a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, Polis fired off a blistering critique of the Obama administration’s defense of the federal ban on gay marriage. Polis called a Department of Justice brief comparing his “loving relationship” with his partner to incest “unconscionable coming from a president who has called for change.” Without addressing gay-rights concerns, Polis warned, President Barack Obama would “risk losing the support of the GLBT community forever,” though he said he didn’t “believe we are at that point yet.”
The next day, when Obama signed a presidential memorandum extending some benefits to same-sex partners of some federal employees, Polis offered lukewarm applause but told The Colorado Independent the move amounted to “a far cry from the equality we seek.”
A day later, when a rumor spread that Polis had boycotted the Oval Office signing ceremony for the benefits extension, a Polis spokeswoman hastily tried to tamp down the story. “The congressman was invited,” Polis press secretary Lara Cottingham said. “He did not boycott the event, he had a previous engagement. Votes ran very late that day and he went straight to the baseball game.” The slugger barely made it to National Stadium for the annual congressional baseball game — won by the Democrats for the first time since the Clinton administration, with an RBI from Polis, who later said he’d been practicing for months for his chance at bat.
Then last week Polis, along with Denver Democrat Diana DeGette and 75 other members of Congress, asked Obama to stop enforcing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, responsible for the ouster of more than 250 gay and lesbian service members since Obama took office.
Also last week, Polis won praise from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for challenging House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat, to move ahead on legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Skelton agreed to schedule hearings and involve the Pentagon and White House in discussions.
To cap it off, Obama met Monday afternoon with more than 200 prominent gay and lesbian leaders — while ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” no less, played in the East Room — to mend ties. It was the first time a president has ever celebrated Pride Month at the White House.
From remarks Obama made at Monday’s White House reception for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, as transcribed by CQ Politics:
We seek an America in which no one feels the pain of discrimination based on who you are or who you love. I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It’s not for me to tell you to be patient anymore than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago.
But I say this: We have made progress. And we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps. And by the time that you see… We’ve been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.