At a reception commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Barack Obama faced down representatives from a constituent group that was originally very supportive of his candidacy, but has now grown skeptical of his commitment to their own issues. Addressing a group of gay men and women, the president tried to soothe their worries. “I know that many in this room don’t believe progress has come fast enough, and I understand that,” he said, pointedly reminding them that they were not the only people to become impatient with civil-rights progress. “It’s not for me to tell you to be patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago.” Gays have become frustrated that after promising to abolish the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama has done nothing on either front. In fact, his administration has defended both in court, and in the latter case the Department of Justice filed a lengthy brief that infuriated gay advocates by likening same-sex marriage to incest.
“We’ve been in office six months now,” Obama told the group, which included Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, who is set to be expelled from the Air Force after a colleague told his superiors that he is gay. “I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.” Still, the president stressed patience. “I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term,” he said, asking to be judged “not by promises I’ve made but by the promises that my administration keeps.”
Obama should know that gays are going to judge him today, tomorrow, and four years from now — after all, that’s what they do best. But political language aside, there is simply a difference between a promise kept today and one addressed three and a half years later. And while they may be good at judging, it’s our experience that the gays are less good at being patient.
On Gay Issues, Obama Asks to Be Judged on Vows Kept [NYT]
*An earlier version of this post said that Clinton adviser Richard Socarides, who has been vocally critical of Obama on gay issues, was present at the meeting. He was not, but after watching it, he told the Times that Obama’s comments “will buy him some time, but he’ll have to deliver.”