Obama vows to end 'don't ask, don't tell'
COMMITMENT 'UNWAVERING' | Acknowledges gay activists' impatience with him
WASHINGTON -- President Obama -- confronting gay critics who expected his administration to have done more by now on gay rights issues -- said Saturday night he understands their impatience with him and vowed to deliver on his pledges, including ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"My commitment to you is unwavering," Obama told the Human Rights Campaign's annual national dinner, probably buying himself more time with a 24-minute campaign-style stemwinder punctuated with several standing ovations. The HRC is the nation's biggest gay rights organization.
He said he knew many in the audience "don't believe progress has come fast enough."
He urged gay-rights activists to keep up the pressure on him, casting the battle for gay rights in the context of the civil rights struggle that led to his election as the first African American in the White House.
In an emotive passage near the end of his address, Obama said tonight, somewhere in America a "young man will struggle to fall asleep wrestling alone with a secret . . . soon, perhaps he will decide it is time to let that secret out."
Obama's never been in the closest when it comes to his support of most gay issues--except gay marriage--he just hasn't delivered on the top gay agenda items, including the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.
The speech came the night before a gay rights march in Washington and after the House voted on Friday to expand the definition of hate crimes to include gay, lesbian and transgender people.
The Human Rights Campaign is heavily Democratic, and Obama's campaign benefitted from gay donors and voters. Obama's administration has openly gay appointees, and gay, lesbian and transgender couples were invited to the White House Easter Egg hunt.
But Obama has hesitated to prod Congress to move swiftly on major gay issues, disappointing some of his most avid backers.
He has not wanted to push divisive hot-button gay issues as he is wrestling with Congress over health care, the economy, financial re-regulation and managing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And though Obama reaffirmed Saturday that he backs the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, his Justice Department has defended the measure, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, in court.
Obama is against gay marriage, but to hear him Saturday night, you wouldn't know it as he walked up to the line.
"We will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman," he said.
Obama pledged during his presidential campaign to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which has prevented openly gay men and women from serving in the military.
Obama noted that repeal legislation is pending in Congress.
While Obama said, "I will end 'don't ask, don't tell,' " he did not put a deadline on Congress to act. He has used a similar tactic on health care and other legislation that is a priority with his administration.
I talked with Steve Hildebrand, who was Obama's deputy campaign director -- and openly gay -- after the speech. He's not angry at Obama, but he sees the need to keep pressure on the White House and Congress to deliver on the promises. Said Hildebrand: "We have to hurry up and get things done because we are not going to have a Democratic president and Democratic majorities forever."