Two small but important steps forward for same sex couples

Elizabeth's picture

I hesitate to make too much of small things. On the one hand i don't want to blow them out of proportion. On the other i don't want to jinx a process that might be just in its early stages. But despite those two concerns I am excited by two recent policy changes that the Obama administration has made which seem to indicate at very least a less restrictive interpretation of the Defense of Marriage Act and perhaps more than that: perhaps a slow chipping away at the act itself. 

First of all, today the New York Times printed an AP story reporting that the Census Bureau would in fact count same sex married couples as married. That reverses a Bush administration policy that I wrote about here explicitly stating that these couples could not be counted because DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages in any way. Apparently the Obama administration disagrees. Then again, the Obama administration also understands the need for accurate research and solid data when making policy decisions, and data provided by a census that did not count such marriages would be inherently flawed.

Earlier this week President Obama signed a memorandum guaranteeing some employment related benefits (for example access to long term care insurance, use of sick leave to care for sick partners or children) to same sex partners working for the federal government. This does not go far enough, and does not relate to the recognition of marriages per se, but it indicates a small step toward increased recognition of same sex relationships by the federal government. 

I don't know exactly what to make of these two decisions coming in one week. It could simply be a way for President Obama to deflect some of the criticism directed at him for not actively taking up the civil rights agenda he said he would champion. It could also be an indication that, while he needed initially to focus on the emergencies created by two wars and a crumbling financial system that he now has some time to spend on civil rights issues.

I'm curious about your own reactions: cynical or hopeful? Pessimistic or optimistic? Is one of those decisions more important or more telling than the other? Leave your reactions in the comments.