- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is finding it tough to deliver on big campaign promises to the gay rights community but is looking to reaffirm a commitment to their priorities.

On the eve of a major gay-rights rally, Obama planned to address thousands of gays and lesbians at a fundraising dinner Saturday night for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group. A White House spokesman says Obama will outline the progress he hopes to achieve for the gay community in the coming weeks and months.

Since Obama took office in January, some advocates have complained that Obama has not followed through on promises on issues they hold dear and has not championed their causes from the White House, including ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military and pushing tough nondiscrimination policies.

“I’m disappointed because I think a lot of us, particularly a lot of us young people, believed that we would see quick and decisive change, and now I think we’re facing the reality that it’s not that way,” said Kip Williams, a co-director of the National Equality March, which is expected to draw thousands of gay and lesbian activists to the National Mall on Sunday.

“I am not satisfied by dreams and visions. I want to see real commitments, and I would be pleased if I heard Obama make a real commitment with a timeline,” he said.

In the past, Obama has urged the gay-rights community to trust him. In June, he pointed to some initial efforts, such as a presidential memorandum he issued that expands some federal benefits to same-sex partners. On Saturday night, Obama is also expected to cite hate-crimes legislation that he wants to see Congress pass quickly for his signature.

Still, it’s a far cry from his biggest promises.

Obama publicly has committed himself to repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they don’t disclose their sexual orientation or act on it. But Obama hasn’t taken any concrete steps urging Congress to rescind the policy, and his national security adviser last weekend would only say that Obama will focus on overturning it “at the right time.”

Obama also pledged during the campaign to work for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. But lawyers in his administration defended the law in a court brief. White House aides said they were only doing their jobs to back a law that was already on the books.

The gay community is somewhat split as to whether Obama should be expected to produce results right away.

The Human Rights Campaign, which invited Obama to speak at its dinner Saturday night, said it remains hopeful of seeing more action. “He’s obviously the most supportive president and has done more than any president” on behalf of the gay community, said Joe Solmonese, the group’s president. He said the Obama administration has been working with the group on a range of issues “on an almost weekly and sometimes daily basis.”

Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of Congress, notes there has been some progress such as the hate-crimes legislation, which would make it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation. Frank, D-Mass., also said the gay rights community understands “there is a legislative process” and progress can’t happen overnight.

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