The 2010 Forecast: More Delays for Gays

Imagine looking up at an airport monitor. Next to the list of flights scheduled for departure is “delayed,” “delayed,” “delayed.”

Got the image?

Then you have a fairly good feel for how gay Americans ended 2009, a year in which Democrats ran the control towers. Long-promised flights toward equality were, well, you got it, largely delayed.

Lots of flights took off for other destinations. But the two top priorities of gay Americans — getting rid of the Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages and rid of the anti-gay Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military ban — remained grounded.

As president, Barack Obama repeated his campaign statements supporting repeal of DOMA and Don’t Ask. Yet his Justice Department and Office of Personnel Management vigorously demanded that federal courts make married and uniformed gays keep waiting and waiting.

Will 2010 be similarly marred by delaying tactics? Here’s a guide for would-be travelers:

— Honeymoon trips: The new year takes off like a rocket. Gay couples start marrying in New Hampshire as it follows the lead of Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut and Vermont.

So, 10 senators will now represent marriage-equality states. That count doesn’t include those from California, where 18,000 gay couples legally wed, or from places that honor out-of-state gay marriages.

The Senate, where most legislation needs 60 supporters to be cleared for takeoff, prides itself on its glacial pace. DOMA repeal hasn’t even been introduced there yet. Don’t expect it to pass in 2010.

But watch for marriage reality to begin influencing more senators. Same-sex marriages are set to begin in Washington, D.C., around St. Patrick’s Day. Congress has 30 legislative days to block D.C. laws, but it rarely does. We can expect a lot of gay Capitol Hill staffers to begin marrying. Think that’ll have an impact on the lawmaking bosses they interact with all day long? I do.

— Fragile cargo: The House health care bill — but not the Senate version — would get rid of the federal tax slapped on gay workers who put their partners on their health plans. Can that gay-friendly provision get airborne? I’m dubious, since Senate Democratic leaders passed up countless opportunities to get it onto the runway.

Gay-rights lobbyists contend all sorts of gay gains are most likely to be achieved by amending non-gay legislation, not by pushing stand-alone bills. We’ll see.

— Inflight update: House and Senate committees passed bills to extend health care benefits to federal workers’ partners. Will Democratic leaders schedule floor votes?

— Engines started: Having held hearings, will House and Senate committees vote to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity? Ditto for the Senate panel that held hearings on treating the foreign partners of gay Americans like spouses for immigration purposes.

— Waiting for pilots: The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have yet to hold promised hearings on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Repeal has been introduced in the House, not the Senate. Key congressional allies talk of inserting repeal into the Defense Authorization bill. But unless the president gets the military brass on board, don’t expect this flight to leave the hangar in 2010.

— Stormy skies: History tells us the party holding the White House will lose seats next November. Watch for lots of defensive flight plans from the White House and Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada will be worrying about his own re-election.

— Friendly pilots: More lawmakers than ever before are heartfelt advocates of gay rights. That makes it harder for skittish Democratic leaders in the control towers on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to just ignore demands for equality flights. Harder, but not yet impossible.

Equality travelers beware: Expect plenty of delays and turbulence in 2010. Keep those motion sickness bags nearby.

Copyright 2009