The Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center, which stakes out policy positions and lobbies government on various issues, generally lines up pretty closely with the Democratic party. This perhaps makes sense for no other reason than that the Reform Movement is the largest American Jewish denomination and Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats.


Recent RAC press releases include a call for unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut to be extended; criticism of a US House of Representatives hearing on contraceptive coverage mandates for being one-sided for not including witnesses supportive of the Obama administration’s policy; and a lambasting of radio personality Rush Limbaugh for controversial comments he made on the same issue.


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But the RAC made a rare direct rebuke of President Obama over his recent announcement that he wouldn’t sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.


“The federal government is by far the nation''s largest employer and through its actions sets an example for other employers to follow,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the RAC. “By making clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation is unacceptable, the government can play a transformational role.”


He concludes, “We urge the president to reconsider this decision and fulfill his commitment to ensuring a future in which all Americans are treated with dignity and respect."


After coming under pressure from gay activists for not doing enough to advance their agenda during the first phase of his administration, Obama made up considerable ground by spearheading the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which allows gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, and for refusing to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, a law which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.


But Obama’s executive order decision creates a breach with the gay community as he heads toward re-election. This might not be a coincidence, as the move prevents what could be a proportionally larger breach with working class voters – generally not gay rights enthusiasts – that Obama’s trying to win over.


While not going ahead with the executive order was clear to anger gay rights activists, the RAC’s statement indicates the far broader repercussions of the decision. Obama’s not likely to lose the Jewish vote over it, but the reaction does serve as a warning note that Obama’s challenge doesn’t only come from the Right.


- Hilary Leila Krieger

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