President Obama promised gay and lesbian activists Saturday he would repeal a ban on gays in the military, rebuking complaints he has not honored his promises to fight for equal rights.
“I will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ That’s my commitment to you,” Mr. Obama said during a rousing speech before some 3,000 activists at an event organized by the country’s biggest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization.
“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country,” he said. “We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars.”
Mr. Obama did not provide a timeline for repealing the 1993 law, a hot-button social issue. More than 12,000 service members have been discharged under the policy, which requires gays and lesbians to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face discharge.
The president said Saturday that he realized many in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) audience “don’t believe progress has come fast enough,” but he urged patience.
“Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach,” he said.
Mr. Obama has extended partial federal benefits to same-sex partners of federal government workers, but he is under pressure from activists to deliver on his campaign promise to repeal the military ban.
“This is also a time of great impatience,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese, noting that thousands of gay men and women were expected Sunday to descend on Washington for a National Equality March. But he insisted that “we have never had a stronger ally in the White House, never.”
The Obama administration has said it supports repealing the rule at some point but has made clear no immediate action is on the horizon, as it attempts to manage an economic recovery, health care reform and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Despite the real gains that we’ve made, there are still laws to change and there are still hearts to open,” Mr. Obama acknowledged, calling “painful and heartbreaking” the bias some continue to hold against gays.
“This story, this fight continues now, and I’m here with a simple message: I’m here with you in that fight,” Mr. Obama said as the crowd burst into cheers that echoed throughout the Washington Convention Center.