OBAMA STANDS BY COMMITMENTS IN HRC SPEECH…. President Obama’s remarks to the Human Rights Campaign last night was, by most measures, the most forceful speech ever delivered by a U.S. president in support of gay rights. If only it weren’t such an easy bar to clear.
After not quite nine months in office, the Obama record on gay rights is not a blank slate. He’s made some key personnel appointments, and stood by them when the right launched anti-gay attacks. The administration has presented a package of domestic partnership benefits for federal workers, addressed the diplomatic passport issue, issued a strong Pride Month proclamation, hosted a White House event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and is moving towards signing an expanded hate crimes bill into law.
There is, however, widespread frustration among many gay-rights supporters about the pace of change. The president hasn’t betrayed the LGBT community — which is to say, Obama hasn’t broken any promises or abandoned any commitments — but there have been delays that have bred disappointment and acrimony.
Last night, Obama conceded that while there’s been progress, many activists and their allies expect far more. “Many of you don’t believe progress is happening. I want to be honest about that because it’s important to be honest among friends,” he said. “I said this before, I’ll repeat it again, it’s not important for me to tell you to be patient.”
The president nevertheless made his intentions clear. “I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” Obama told the nation’s largest gay advocacy group. “That is my commitment to you…. This fight continues now and I’m here with the simple message: I’m here with you in that fight.” He also highlighted his support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and making the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act law. The president went on to say, “Nobody in America should be fired because they’re gay, despite doing a great job and meeting their responsibilities. It’s not fair, it’s not right, we’re going to put a stop to it.”
Addressing his vision of what’s to come, Obama added, “My commitment to you is unwavering, even as we wrestle with these enormous problems. Do not doubt the direction we are headed and the destination we will reach.”
The lingering question, of course, is when the steps will materialize. The president’s speech was a gesture, but more importantly, it was a recommitment. Obama isn’t walking away from his pledges, he’s reassuring ostensible supporters that he intends to do exactly what he promised to do.
He’ll be judged on whether he keeps those promises.