NEW YORK — President Obama was careful not to attack Republicans by name on Sunday night during an address before the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT gala, but it was clear what he thinks of their views.
For example, Obama didn’t mention Democrat-turned-Republican Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis or any the 2016 GOP presidential candidates, but his repudiation of the invocation of religious liberty as an excuse for anti-LGBT discrimination could have easily applied to them.
Acknowledging that religious liberty is cherished in the United States, Obama noted, “Religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights.”
Obama delivered the 20-minute speech at Gotham Hall on the same day he came to New York City to attend a session at the United Nations. According to the DNC, about 530 supporters attended and contributed between $1,200 and $33,400 a person.
Reflecting on the GOP presidential candidates, Obama said they probably won’t use marriage as a wedge issue like they did in 2004, “because the country has come too far,” but he took the hopefuls to task for their responses thus far to the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of gay nuptials.
One candidate, Obama noted without identifying him, said the United States should “just disobey the Supreme Court’s order entirely.” That’s the view of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“I’m sure he loves the Constitution, except for Article III,” Obama said. “And maybe the Equal Protection Amendment. And 14th Amendment, generally.”
One of the leading candidates, Obama said, suggested “going to prison turns you gay.” That remark came from former neurosurgeon Ben Carson before he apologized.
Another candidate, Obama said, “boasts that he introduced an amendment to end nationwide marriage equality — which isn’t even an accomplishment at all.” That could be either Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who introduced such an amendment in the current Congress, or former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who unsuccessfully led efforts on the marriage amendment in 2004 and 2006.
Introducing Obama at the event was Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in litigation that established the right of same-sex couples to marry across the country. Obergefell praised Obama for embracing LGBT issues, including the Supreme Court decision, bans on “ex-gay” conversion therapy and transgender visibility.
But Obergefell joked one thing remains: Obama, he said, can’t pronounce “Obergefell” correctly. During remarks in June, at the White House Rose Garden at the time of the Supreme Court marriage decision, Obama tripped over Obergefell’s name when it came up on the TelePrompter.
“We have both names last names starting with ‘O’, so it should be easy, right?” Obergefell said, adding that in truth he would support the president no matter how he pronounced “Obergefell.”
Upon taking stage at the gala, Obama sought to correct the record, enunciating “Obergefell” before he proceeded with the speech to the crowd.
Obama bragged about progress seen over the course of six-and-a-half years in his administration. Much of his talk was focused on the success of Obamacare enrolling 17 million people in health care as well as economic growth. Without naming 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Obama teased him for promising “to get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent by the end of next year,” citing the figure that it’s now at 5.1 percent.
The president also rattled off accomplishments on LGBT issues, saying the “cynics were wrong” that change wouldn’t happen. America is now a place “where marriage is equal,” Obama said. Obama also touted repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Tonight, we live in an America where ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is something that ‘don’t exist,'” Obama said, eliciting loud applause from the audience.
Citing continued discrimination faced by individuals, Obama credited the Democratic Party for recognizing that bigotry and pledging to confront it, ranking it as the best quality of the party.
“And in the end, that’s what makes me proudest to be a Democrat,” Obama said, adding the situation wasn’t always the case when Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen were leading the Republican Party on civil rights issues.
Concluding his remarks, Obama said Democrats must work harder in 2016 than they did when he was first on the ballot in 2008 to keep on with change.
“What makes America special is, is that though sometimes we zig and zag, eventually hope wins out,” Obama said. “But it only wins out because folks like you put your shoulder behind the wheel and push it in that direction.”
Among the high-profile attendees at the gala were lesbian finance guru Suze Orman, gay “Star Trek” actor George Takei, gay New York City Council member Corey Johnson, lesbian U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and gay Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias.