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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

This is interesting — and I’m not entirely certain what it means.

Obama’s transition website, Change.gov, includes a section called ‘Agenda’ that outlines the administration’s objectives in any of a couple dozen policy areas. For the most part, the ‘Agenda’ section is a near carbon-copy of the ‘Issues’ section on Obama’s campaign website, BarackObama.com.

In the area of ‘Civil Rights’, however, there is a significant difference between the campaign website and Change.gov, the transition website. Specifically, the transition website makes a much broader range of commitments to the gay and lesbian community.

Whereas BarackObama.com includes a couple of items of interest to the gay community — namely, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and expanded hate-crimes statutes — that is the extent of it. The gay and lesbian community is not mentioned explicitly — in fact, the word ‘gay’ does not appear anywhere in the ‘Civil Rights’ section of BarackObama.com. By contrast, the Change.gov website includes a section addressed explicitly to the gay community, and it covers not only ENDA and hate crimes, but also promises Obama’s support for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, an expansion of adoption rights for gay couples, his backing of “full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples”, and his opposition to a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

What to make of the difference? On the one hand, this would seem to demonstrate Obama’s (over)sensitivity to the politics embedded in gay rights issues. A waffling, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t attitude toward gay rights is exactly what many in the community fear from the administration. On the other hand, one can argue that Obama is moving in the right direction, now willing to make a more explicit and comprehensive series of commitments to the gay community than he was while in campaign mode.

One consequence of the Rick Warren controversy is that Obama may now be under a greater amount of pressure from Democrats to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to pass ENDA, and to expand hate crimes statutes, and to do all of the above relatively quickly. As we have pointed out before, large majorities of the public are in line with the Obama position on all three issues. If Obama is not willing to expend the relatively modest amount of political capital required on those, then one can reasonably anticipate that he won’t be willing to touch more controversial subject areas like adoption or civil unions.

UPDATE: Several readers write in to point out that BarackObama.com does contain some of the aforementioned text on gay rights, but it’s buried about four clicks deep under the ‘People’ tab rather than under the ‘Issues’ tab. The point is, these are not exactly things that Obama was putting front and center.

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