Obama Pledges Again to End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Saturday renewed his vow to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, but failed to offer a
timetable for doing so — an omission likely to inflame critics who say he is not fighting aggressively enough for gay rights.
“I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” Mr. Obama told an audience of nearly 3,000 people at a fund-raising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, the
nation’s largest gay advocacy group. “That is my commitment to you.”
The president’s emphatic declaration, on the eve of a major gay rights rally here, brought a huge roar from the crowd at the star-studded black-tie
dinner, where tickets cost as much as $1,000 and entertainment was provided by the singer Lady Gaga and the cast of the new Fox comedy “Glee.” But
outside the room, the president’s words met with a chillier reception.
Bil Browning, a blogger for Bilerico Project, a Web site aimed at a gay audience, said moments after the speech ended that the site was flooded with
critical comments by people who said they had heard nothing new. “I could have watched one of his old campaign speeches and heard the same thing,” one
Even inside the room, reaction was mixed. Terry Penrod, a real estate agent from Columbus, Ohio, said some gay rights advocates were being impatient
with the president, while Raj Malthotra, 29, a management consultant from Washington, said he thought the speech was a rehash of Mr. Obama’s past
“For him, it’s buy more time until he needs our votes again,” Mr. Malthotra said.
Mr. Obama campaigned as a “fierce advocate” of equal rights for gays, he said, and he used Saturday’s speech to lay out his vision of the day when, as
he said, “we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women are just as real and admirable as relationships between a man
and a woman,” and when “no one has to be afraid to be gay in America.”
Yet the president’s relationship with the gay community has been a conflicted one. He does not support gay marriage — as a matter of Christian
principle, he has said — and he got off to a bad start with the gay community when he invited the Rev. Rick Warren, who opposes same-sex unions, to
deliver the invocation at his inauguration.
In the nine months since, Mr. Obama has made only limited progress on the issues that are important to gays. He has pushed for hate crime legislation,
and a bill, approved in the House on Thursday, now appears headed for passage. He has put forth a package of domestic partnership benefits for federal
workers, but faced criticism that the effort did not include health benefits. He has said he would push to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which
allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages in other states, but it remains on the books.
But of all the issues Mr. Obama has vowed to address, the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is perhaps the one that stirs the most emotion.
Mr. Obama said Saturday night that he was working with the Pentagon and with House and Senate leaders to repeal the policy, but many gay rights
supporters have accused him of dragging his feet.
In the days before the speech, many advocates for gay rights said they hoped he would lay out a timetable for overturning the policy or otherwise
offer specifics on how he will achieve his goal.
“An opportunity was missed tonight,” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents gay and lesbian
soldiers, said in a statement afterward.
Mr. Obama spoke for about 20 minutes inside the packed Washington Convention Center; outside, a small band of protesters on the sidewalk carried
banners urging the president to live up to his promises. Among them was Mark Katzenberger, a software trainer from San Francisco, who said that
despite his disillusionment with Mr. Obama, he would probably vote for him again.
Capturing the feeling of many in the gay community, Mr. Katzenberger said, “Even our friends sometimes need a kick in the butt.”