WASHINGTON The gay-rights movement's leading organization is calling on President-elect Barack H. Obama to "turn the corner" on the Rick Warren controversy by endorsing its policy agenda for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people.
The Human Rights Campaign initiated Dec. 19 a petition drive with its membership to urge Obama to work to establish five policy changes. Included on HRC's agenda are requests for the president-elect to act within the first 100 days of his administration to expand protections for federal government employees to include transgenders and to produce a strategy for ending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals in the military.
HRC initiated its campaign two days after it was announced Obama had invited Warren, senior pastor of the Southern Baptist-affiliated Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., to deliver the invocation at his Jan. 20 inauguration. The organization and others in the homosexual rights movement criticized Obama, with HRC describing the invitation as "a genuine blow to LGBT Americans."
Homosexual activists reacted angrily because Warren had endorsed Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that amended California's constitution to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. The initiative passed by 52-48 percent, overturning a state Supreme Court decision that legalized "gay marriage."
The HRC petition calls on Obama to make amends by "officially committing" to:
• Issue an executive order in the first 100 days of his presidency that confirms the rights of federal workers based on "sexual orientation" and extends those rights to "gender identity;"
• Develop a plan in the first 100 days to initiate a process for repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military;
• Work with Congress to enact a hate-crimes law in the first six months;
• Endorse a version of the Employment Non-discrimination Act that includes protections for transgenders;
• Cooperate with Congress to halt "unequal tax treatment of domestic partnerships benefits."
HRC describes itself as America's "largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization."
"Sexual orientation" can encompass homosexuality and bisexuality, as well as transgender status. "Gender identity" is a "person's innate sense of gender," which may be different than his sex, according to HRC. Transgender is an umbrella term for "people who live all or substantial portions of their lives expressing an innate sense of gender other than their birth sex," according to HRC. The transgender category includes transsexuals and cross-dressers.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" bars homosexuals from serving in the U.S. armed forces but also prohibits the military from investigating a member's "sexual orientation" without just cause.
HRC-endorsed hate-crimes legislation would extend current protections for traits such as race, religion and national origin to "sexual orientation." The bill's opponents say such a law would grant protection based on lifestyle choices. They also warn it would move federal law toward punishing thoughts and beliefs, since the motivation of a person charged with a hate crime would have to be evaluated. In addition, some critics warn it could lead to suppression of speech that describes homosexual behavior as sinful.
The version of ENDA supported by HRC would make discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" illegal in such areas as hiring, firing and compensation for both the private and public workplace. It would include protections for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders.