Benefits change raises questions about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

President Obama's decision to extend benefits to gay partners of federal employees is intended to soothe the anger of his erstwhile gay supporters. But the move only emphasizes the one policy those activists are most eager to change: Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT).

The "presidential memorandum" Obama will sign tonight applies to "civil service employees" and "foreign service employees." It's unclear whether military members would fall under one of those classifications, but that's really a moot point. Even if active duty personnel were included in the memorandum, they would be prevented from requesting those benefits by DADT. How can you request benefits for your gay partner when you can't admit you're gay?

Opponents of DADT can now argue that the policy puts gay service members at a material disadvantage compared to the rest of the federal workforce. In effect, the extension of benefits to gay partners only highlights the "exceptional" status of gay members of the military.

Will this concession by Obama soothe gay activists, or just anger them further? In other words, by avoiding the fight over DADT, has the White House intensified it?

Already, pro-gay rights activists are highlighting the irony. A statement from the Human Rights Campaign on the issue ends with this admonishment: "We commend President Obama and his administration for taking this beginning step to level the playing field but we look forward to working with him to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, overturn 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and guarantee the entire American workforce is free from discrimination."

Meanwhile, John Aravosis at AMERICAblog takes a look at the White House fact sheet on the new policy and concludes: "Also, no mention of the military--are they getting benefits? Active duty members too? And if so, how are they going to get around DADT?"

Expect a lot more people to be asking that question in the days ahead.