(Photo: Reuters/Richard Clement)
President Barack Obama told a gathering of gay activists Saturday night that he was committed to fight for equality, and touted his accomplishments including the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“Every single American – gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender – every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society,” Obama said at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay rights organization. “It’s a pretty simple proposition.”
The president said as he had promised to address gay rights issues at the 2009 annual dinner of the organization, there was reason to be proud of the progress his administration had made.
“I met with Judy Shepard,” Obama told the 3,000 guests at the Washington Convention Center. “I promised her we would pass a hate crimes bill named for her son, Matthew [who was murdered for being homosexual]. And with the help of my dear friend Ted Kennedy we got it done.”
Obama said he also met with Janice Langbehn, “who was barred from the bedside of the woman she loved as she lay dying.” He said he told her there would be an end to such discrimination. “And you know what? We got it done. I issued an order so that any hospital in America that accepts Medicare or Medicaid – and that means just about every hospital – has to treat gay partners just as they do straight partners.”
Obama added that many doubted if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be repealed. “And, yes, it took two years to get the repeal through Congress... But with the help of HRC, we got it done.”
After the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” gays and lesbians can serve openly in the U.S. military.
The president reminded gay activists of his promise to keep up the fight against the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and protects other states from having to recognize such unions from another state. “There’s a bill to repeal this discriminatory law in Congress, and I want to see that passed. But until we reach that day, my administration is no longer defending DOMA in the courts.”
Obama said there was more work to do. After decades of “inaction,” he told activists, “you’ve got every right to push against the slow pace of change.” “But make no mistake – I want people to feel encouraged here – we are making change. We’re making real and lasting change. We can be proud of the progress we’ve already made.”
Obama said he needed their help “to fight for equality, to pass a repeal of DOMA, to pass an inclusive employment non-discrimination bill so that being gay is never again a fireable offense in America.”
The president rebuked his Republicans rivals for staying silent after the audience at the Sept. 22 presidential debate booed a gay soldier who asked about the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “You want to be commander in chief?” he asked. “You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”
However, Obama did not endorse gay marriage explicitly. The president has said his views on gay marriage are “evolving” and for now he supports civil union.
“I’d like to see the president bring his message of support for the freedom to marry to a broader audience, perhaps in a conversational setting, so that all Americans can hear him talk about why marriage matters to loving gay and lesbian couples and their families,” Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, told CNN.
“We applaud the administration’s progress, while we also encourage him to ‘evolve faster’ on supporting full marriage equality,” Stuart Gaffney, media director for Marriage Equality USA, was quoted as saying.
In contrast, many influential Christian groups, which believe that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman, are fighting to preserve traditional marriage in America.