After nearly a decade of outsider status, gay and lesbian activists are once again being welcomed in the halls of Congress and the White House. What do they plan on doing with their new access? Lots, it seems.

Access is mostly concentrated in the House of Representatives where three openly gay Democratic members – Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and newly-elected Jared Polis of Colorado – form the backbone of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Equality Caucus.

While President Barack Obama has pledged his support for gay rights, activists have begun to question his loyalty to right wing groups doggedly opposed to gay rights.

Two bills that have passed the House before but stalled due to a threatened Bush veto – hate-crimes and a gay protections (ENDA) bill – will be reintroduced this spring.

“It's one thing to go through the exercise of passing a bill through the House,” Baldwin told The Hill. “It's another thing to pass it through the House and the Senate and have it signed by the president.”

“This session is not a dress rehearsal for future sessions. If these bills pass, they become law,” Baldwin added.

The Matthew Shepard Hates Crime Act is named after the University of Wyoming student who was beaten, shackled to a post and left to die in a field by two men he had met in a gay bar. It would expand the 1969 federal hate-crime law to include crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and disabled persons.

ENDA seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the area of employment. The addition of gender identity to the bill has become a heated topic. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocate, endorsed a non-inclusive version of the bill in 2007 that fizzled after passing the House. This year, the group says it will only back the bill if it is fully inclusive. But Democratic leaders say they do not have the political muscle to move a trans-inclusive bill.

Another two bills will address benefits being blocked by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for the purpose of federal agencies and allows states to ignore legal gay marriage.

Two senators – Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) – have joined two reps – Baldwin and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) – in sponsoring a measure that would extend marriage-like benefits to federal employees. The bill is expected to be introduced next week.

“This is long overdue and I think this is the year to do right by so many lesbian and gay workers with partners,” Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill. “The federal government is the nation's largest civilian employer, and it's about time [gays and lesbians] receive these benefits.”

New York Rep. Jerry Nadler and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, both Democrats, are sponsoring the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill that would grant gay and lesbian spouses the right to sponsor an immigrant for U.S. citizenship. A topic Senator John Kerry has recently spoken out about.

The Democratic senator from Massachusetts expressed his frustration at the law on the pages of gay weekly Bay Windows.

“I support legislation to amend our immigration laws [to allow gay spouses to sponsor an immigrant],” Kerry wrote.

Both measures attempt to legislate exceptions to DOMA, but a Rep. Nadler-sponsored measure would altogether repeal Section 3 of DOMA, the portion of the law that applies to federal recognition of gay unions.

“Instead of killing the Defense of Marriage Act with a bang, they plan on killing it with a whimper,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council, a group opposed to ending DOMA.

The fight for DOMA is likely to get ugly. Social conservatives began preparing for the brawl even before the president entered the Oval Office.

And a new front in the war against the anti-gay ban opened just a couple weeks ago when eight married gay couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts announced they were suing the federal government for benefits being denied under DOMA. They claim section 3 of DOMA discriminates against gay and lesbian couples and is unconstitutional.

Finally, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a Democrat from California, has introduced legislation that would repeal “don't ask, don't tell,” the discriminatory law that discharges military service members who do not remain quiet about their sexual orientation or do not remain celibate.

Prior to Tauscher's announcement, Obama officials appeared reluctant to take on the issue, calling instead for a new Pentagon assessment before moving forward. But the day after the announcement, White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor said the president has “begun consulting with Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and national security.”