- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

President Obama on Monday hosted a gay pride celebration at the White House and defended his efforts so far to expand gay rights, telling a group of boisterous activists that the reforms they seek will take time and patience.

“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 patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago,” Mr. Obama said

“But I say this: We have made progress. And we will make more,” he said, speaking to about 300 people who gathered in the White House East Room to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, where gays and police clashed for several days after a law enforcement raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village.

The first gay pride march took place one year later.

Many in the gay rights movement say, however, the president is not moving quickly enough to fulfill campaign promises on their top issues, most notably a reversal of the Defense of Marriage Act and a repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Attendees at the White House did not appear all that mindful of these concerns as they cheered Mr. Obama throughout his roughly 20-minute speech.

But statements after the event, by gay rights leaders who attended, showed a mixed response.

Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said the event “was a symbol of the fact that the administration recognizes our community at a time when there has been growing frustration about his administration’s seeming reticence to follow through on campaign promises.”

“Our community will continue to advocate and will be watching closely to ensure Obama makes good on the promises he discussed today,” said Mr. Barrios, who attended the reception with his 17-year-old son.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the president’s speech was “welcomed and appreciated” but added that “it is the actions to advance equality, not simply the words, that will be the true marker by which this White House will be judged.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, also promised to watch the president’s actions but said she perceived “a much more emotional tone” in Mr. Obama’s remarks than she has in the past.

“I was pleased to hear that because one of the things we are wanting is to know that he understands the gravity of the issues facing our community,” she said in an interview with The Washington Times. “We will be watching his actions.”

But several organizations said the Obama administration’s efforts to expand gay rights are troubling.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said his organization was “overwhelmed by the concessions this president has already made” to the gay rights movement, “including changes to partner benefit, passport and census policies.”

The administration recently changed its position on the 2010 census and said it would count same-sex couples.

Mr. Obama touted his efforts to “extend as many federal benefits as possible” to same-sex couples and their children, as well as his intent to get a hate-crimes law passed through Congress.

He also told the crowd that he has called on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and says states cannot be required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

As for the “don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” Mr. Obama said it “weakens our national security” but repeated his administration’s position that he is not going to unilaterally overturn it without working with the Pentagon and with Congress.

“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 in a way that takes over the long term,” Mr. Obama said, noting that he has asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “develop a plan for how to thoroughly implement a repeal.”

“We’ve been in office six months now,” he said. “I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.”

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