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Civil Rights

Percentage complete: 32*


The passage of President Obama’s first bill -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier to fight pay discrimination -- turned out to be an especially low-key event compared to the headaches he’s had since. Although the president gets a lot of flak from gay rights groups for not placing their concerns at the top of his priority list, he’s reiterated his campaign promises and overtly reassured this group more than most. Trouble started before Obama took the oath of office, when he chose a proponent of overturning gay marriage in California -- evangelical pastor Rick Warren -- to give the invocation, a decision he stuck by but countered with the selection of gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to offer a prayer that kicked off festivities. That’s pretty much how it’s gone since for the president: Oops, counter-oops.

When his Justice Department not only defended the Defense of Marriage Act but invoked arguments that notoriously offended gay rights supporters, Obama invited a cadre of activists to the White House for a conciliatory reception, followed shortly thereafter by new benefits for partners of federal employees. Impatience with the president’s vague timeline for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been assuaged to some extent with expanded hate crime laws, fulfilling a promise he made to voters, and to the mother of slain student Matthew Shepard.

In less prominent moves, Obama has dropped repeated hints that he’s committed to 2008’s campaign promises. For the first time ever, two openly gay people -- tennis star Billie Jean King and, posthumously, politician Harvey Milk -- were awarded the Medal of Freedom. And although Obama didn’t say much as marriage laws were being debated in California and New England, he spoke the day before an equality protest arrived on the National Mall -- albeit during a gala hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. So if gay rights groups don’t feel that their wish list is a priority (and it’s down there somewhere below health care, climate change, two wars and a troubled economy), then at least they can rest assured the president’s not just ignoring them.


Read more about Obama's progress fulfilling his campaign promises on civil rights.

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