Despite skepticism among the gay community and a wary sense that President Obama might not have the courage to deliver on his campaign promises, he got a pretty good reception from LGBT attendees at his Pride Month reception at the White House Monday.
Obama drew early and enthusiastic applause from the crowd of 250-300 LGBT families, volunteers, community leaders, federal employees, state and local lawmakers, and heads of LGBT lobbying/activist organizations gathered in the East Room as he called out greetings to openly gay appointees and gay rights activists, then delivered remarks for about 20 minutes. (Hear audio of Obama's remarks here.)
"Welcome to your White House," he said to the crowd as he addressed it.
As noted elsewhere, Obama has yet to earn the trust of many in the gay political community. His administration hasn't prioritized a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in Congress; its Justice Department defended the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Clinton-signed bill that defines marriage as between a man and a woman--an opinion that's been called insulting to the gay community. He doesn't believe in gay marriage. The message gays have been gleaning from the administration thusfar is: be patient.
Obama confronted that sentiment in his remarks.
"Now I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It's not for me to tell you to be paitent any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago," Obama said.
"But I say this: we have made progress, and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps," he said, drawing applause.
"We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys'll have pretty good feelings about the Obama adminsitration," the president said.
He was certainly right about some of that: gay leaders don't think change has come quickly enough, and every day that goes by without advancements of gay rights they see as an affront.
Obama then got into some points on the gay rights agenda, making promises or signaling progress on each item. He touted the extension of benefits to LGBT partners and families of federal employees and the advancement of hate crimes legislation through the House.
He sought to justify the Justice Dept.'s defense of DOMA: "We have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exascerbate old divides, and fulfilling this duty and upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law," he said, later calling again on Congress to reverse it.
He credited the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the lack of progress on Don't Ask, Don't Tell: "Someday, I'm confident, we'll look back at this transition and ask why it generated such angst. But as commander in chief, in a time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term," Obama said, giving a nod to the continued dismissals of openly gay servicemen and women and the "deep disappointment" they've caused those who've been dismissed.