President Obama addressed on Wednesday at a White House Pride reception an adoring audience of LGBT supporters who seemed largely unaffected by discontent over his lack of support for marriage equality.
Upon Obama’s entrance in the East Room of the White House, the few hundred attendees, largely made up of U.S. government workers and grassroots organizers, greeted Obama with applause and shouts of approval.
During his eight-minute speech, Obama’s most noteworthy remark was an announcement that he expects to certify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal “in a matter of weeks, not months.”
“A lot of people said we weren’t going to be able to get ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ done, including a bunch of people in this room,” Obama said. “It took two years through Congress — working with [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Adm. [Mike] Mullen and [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and the Pentagon. We had to hold together a fragile coalition. We had to keep up the pressure. But the bottom line is we got it done.”
Obama also said he’s kept his promises to LGBT Americans, although he added he recognizes more work remains on the LGBT political agenda and he’s relying on his audience to continue the pressure.
“So bottom line is, I’ve met my commitments to the LGBT community,” Obama said. “I have delivered on what I promised. Now, that doesn’t mean our work is done. There are going to be times where you’re still frustrated with me. I know there are going to be times where you’re still frustrated at the pace of change. I understand that. I know I can count on you to let me know. This is not a shy group.”
Among the attendees were high-ranking openly gay officials within the Obama administration, including John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. As attendees mingled and ate hors d’oeuvres from the White House kitchen, a band played light jazz and R&B music in the background.
Despite increased pressure to endorse marriage equality, Obama made no explicit endorsement of same-sex marriage during his speech. However, he did mention the recently passed marriage law in New York — and possibly alluded to litigation and ballot initiatives related to the right to marry — while listing ways in which “progress” is happening throughout the country.
“It’s propelled not by politics but by love and friendship and a sense of mutual regard and mutual respect,” Obama said. “It’s playing out in legislatures like New York. It’s playing out in courtrooms. It’s playing out in the ballot box, as people argue and debate over how to bring about the changes where we are creating a more perfect union.”
No attendees at the White House reception shouted complaints or heckled Obama to urge him to back same-sex marriage, unlike at a LGBT fundraiser in New York City last week.
Obama’s lack of explicit support for endorsement of same-sex marriage continues to rile many activists who say he continues to miss chances to lead on the issue. In addition to staying mum on his personal views on marriage during the Pride reception, Obama declined to endorse marriage equality during a news conference earlier in the day and during the fundraiser in New York City last week
Still, many suspect Obama backs same-sex marriage without actually saying so and is waiting until after Election 2012 to come out for gay nuptials as a political calculation.
John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, said Obama offered “nice remarks” during the reception, but missed another opportunity to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.
“He seems to be intentionally dragging out his decision on the issue,” Aravosis said. “I think he does us, the issue, and himself a disservice in doing that. The longer he drags the issue out, the more he’s simply going to annoy marriage advocates, ultimately stealing his own thunder when he does finally come out in favor of marriage.”
But attendees at the event weren’t bothered by the president’s lack of support for same-sex marriage and said they would continue supporting him because of all the other work he’s done for the LGBT community.
Gregory King, a gay 55-year-old who works as a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he supports Obama because he’s “done more for the LGBT community than any president in history.”
Asked whether he wants Obama to support same-sex marriage, King replied, “I’m sure, in time, President Obama will do the right thing, but he has consistently shown greater support than any other politician who has ever been elected president, and I think on a day like today, it’s worth saying, ‘Thank you.’”
Caleb Laiseki, a gay 16-year-old anti-bullying activist, said he wasn’t disappointed that Obama didn’t express personal support for same-sex marriage during the reception.
“Altogether, he has been the president that has made the most progress when it comes to safe schools, LGBT youth, LGBT elderly,” Laiseki said. “He has pushed the movement more than any other president, and the administration has pushed forward the movement more than any other administration has.”
Laiseki added that he thinks Obama’s support for same-sex marriage “will come in time,” but maintained he’s not disappointed because he continues to see progress from the administration on LGBT issues.
Straddling both sides of the issue was Dan Savage, who’s gay and founder of the “It Gets Better” Project. While attending the reception with his partner, Terry Miller, Savage wore on his shirt an “Evolve Already” button referencing an earlier remark by Obama that his views on same-sex marriage could change.
“I think the gay community needs to keep the pressure on, which is why I wore the button today, but we also need take ‘yes’ for an answer, and we need to reward progress when it appears,” Savage said. “We’ve seen progress and we should support the president, and continue to make demands on the president.”