In an effort to reactivate the president’s donor network in the LGBT community, the Democratic National Committee arranged a gala dinner at the Sheraton in midtown tonight during Obama’s brief stop in New York. Before a dinner at Daniel and performance of Sister Act the musical, Obama addressed the crowd, who had paid from $1,250 a head to over $30,000 to attend. After speaking about the economy and his accomplishments for about ten minutes, the president got into the meat of what the audience wanted to hear. Almost. “We’re all created equal,” he said, to absolute silence. “Ever since I entered public life, ever since I had a memory about what my mother, and my grandmother, taught me — I believed that discriminating against people was wrong. I had no choice, I was born that way.” He paused for effect. “In Hawaii.” After quick laughs, he continued: “I believe that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.” The crowd gave polite, prolonged applause.
It was clear Obama had stopped just short of saying what they wanted to hear. The “same legal rights” isn’t the same as marriage equality, which is what many of the people in the room were hoping he’d endorse, finally. “What about marriage?” a woman cried, joined moments later by two more, similar shouts.”Believe it or not, I anticipated that,” he said, cutting them off. “I heard you guys.” But the shouts continued as he carried on with the rest of his platitudinous speech.
“Part of the reason that [the Defense of Marriage Act] doesn’t make sense is that traditionally, marriage has been decided by the states,” he said, explaining his administration’s decision to no longer defend the law in court. “And right now I understand that there’s a little debate going on here in New York.” In a nod to the marriage-equality debate going on in Albany right now, Obama said: “I want to say that under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, with the support of Democrats and Republicans, New York is doing exactly what a democracy is supposed to do.”
That didn’t seem to appease the hecklers, either, although the crowd applauded. Obama urged patience with progress, and with himself. “There will be times where things won’t be moving as fast as people would like,” he said. “Yes, I expect continued impatience with me on occasion.” As he left the dais, the president was mobbed with well-wishers. “I’m floored,” host Neil Patrick Harris said, trying to rally the energy of the room. “I think I’m gonna vote for that guy!”