- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

President Obama told a gathering of gay rights activists Saturday night he “will end” the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, renewing a commitment that had gone unmet during his first nine months in office.

The pledge came on the eve of a national march on Washington by gay rights groups, and before an increasingly impatient audience of one of the president’s most dedicated campaign constituencies. Rather than attend the large outdoor rally Sunday, the president opted to keynote a $250-a-plate black-tie dinner for 3,000 guests, thrown by the Human Rights Campaign, the most established gay rights lobbying group in Washington.

With a major health care battle, climate legislation, financial reform legislation and an economic crisis on his plate, the president has been reluctant to wade into what will almost certainly be an emotional battle over the rules governing the military service of gays.

At the same time, an increasingly unsettled gay community has been demanding that the president live up to his promise to address the controversial policy, put in place during the early days of the Clinton administration. Mr. Obama acknowledged the criticism from those who have argued that he hasnt done enough to address concerns of the gay community, and sought to put those concerns to rest.

“Do not doubt the direction we are headed and the destination we will reach,” he said. “We have made progress and we will make more.”

At a time when the military is stretched by a continuing commitment in Iraq and faces the potential of a massive additional deployment of troops to Afghanistan, the president said the country can little afford to be discharging people from the ranks with critical skills.

The president told the group’s membership he also would work toward recognizing same-sex marriages and expanding protections against workplace discrimination against gays.

He garnered his most rousing applause when referencing the recent move by the House to widen hate crimes protections so they cover violence based on sexual orientation. He has pledged to sign the more expansive hate crimes initiative into law.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese introduced the president by reminding the group that they had much to be grateful for.

“We have never had a stronger ally in the White House - never,” Mr. Solmonese said.

During remarks lasting 25 minutes, which were interrupted by several ovations, the president talked about Matthew Shepard, who was killed 11 years ago in Wyoming because of his sexual orientation. Shepards parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, were on hand to accept the first Edward M. Kennedy National Leadership Award, presented by Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat.

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