As gay men and lesbian women gather in St. Petersburg this weekend for the St. Pete Pride celebration, the unresolved debates over "don't ask, don't tell" and gay marriage still dominate the country's discussion on gay rights. And here in Florida, an indefensible ban remains that prohibits homosexual couples from adopting children.
But quietly, the Obama administration has made significant strides for gay and lesbian Americans. Such a piecemeal approach - reflecting Americans' evolving sensibilities and acceptance - is obviously too slow for those most impacted. Nonetheless, it has moved this country further down the path of living up to its ideal of equal rights for all.
The latest step taken by President Barack Obama came earlier this week when the Labor Department announced it would broaden the definition of son and daughter under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. The change would require employers with 50 or more workers to offer employees in same-sex relationships the same rights given to married workers: the ability to take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks at the time of the birth or adoption of their partner's child or when the child is ill.
That decision came a day after Obama's Father's Day statement acknowledged some families consist of "two fathers." And it comes two months after another humane change in which Obama ordered new rules guaranteeing hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners. The rules would apply to hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds.
Other, less-noticed changes noted by the Washington Post:
- Federal workers' same-sex partners will receive long-term health insurance, access to day care and other benefits.
- The Federal Housing Authority no longer considers the sexual orientation of loan applicants.
- The 2010 Census will report the number of same-sex couples.
- Federal child care subsidies can be used by children of same-sex domestic partners.
Many Obama supporters have expressed frustration that progress has not come quicker, hoping that Obama and a Democratic Congress would quickly overturn the Defense of Marriage Act along with "don't ask, don't tell." But that should not detract from the progress America has made, even as it has further to go. The progress includes St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's willingness, during his first months in office, to be more welcoming to St. Pete Pride organizers than his predecessor Rick Baker, who shared his conservative Christian faith. This is progress, even if it is not yet complete.