By Albert Mohler "This was a historic night when we felt the full embrace and commitment of the President of the United States. It's simply unprecedented." Those words were spoken by Joe Salmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, just after President Barack Obama spoke to the group's 13th annual national dinner.
The Human Rights Campaign is one of the leading organizations promoting what it describes as "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights." The group's annual dinner, held Saturday night, featured well-known politicians and entertainers popular in the LGBT community, as well as an appearance by the President of the United States. President Obama's speech was a matter of controversy long before he arrived. Though pledging soon after his election to be what he called a "fierce advocate" for gay rights, the President has frustrated the gay rights community with what they see as inaction and hesitation in dealing with their agenda.
Indeed, the Obama administration has been under sustained pressure from the gay rights community - a crucial sector of its political support - and the HRC dinner was seen as an opportunity for the President to reassert his identification with gay supporters. Mr. Obama was the second sitting president to appear at an HRC dinner. President Bill Clinton appeared before the group in 1997.
Addressing the group, President Obama spoke of the obstacles in the way of the agenda hoped for by gay activists. The President told the group that they faced a continuing fight, adding: "I'm here with you in that fight."
In the course of his address the President took credit for a federal hate crimes bill that was passed last week by a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. He also pledged to push for an employee non-discrimination bill and fully-inclusive hate crimes legislation.
But the greatest attention was directed at the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bars openly-homosexual individuals from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. "I will end don't ask don't tell," the president pledged. "That's my commitment to you." Nevertheless, the President did not stipulate any timetable for this action - a fact noted by his audience.
The President's perceived lack of action - and his refusal to hold his administration to a timetable for action - meant that many in the crowd were disappointed. Though his speech was repeatedly interrupted by eager applause, a good many activists complained that his speech was politically expedient. At TIME.com, John Cloud summarized the President's message with these words: "I'm with you. But I can't do much for you."
Nevertheless, in contrast to that reading of the President's comments, others understood Mr. Obama to make a sweeping series of promises. In addition to pledging a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the President also pledged to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
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