It was the second time Obama has spoken at a Human Rights Campaign event, the last being in 2009. More than 3,000 people attended the latest event, HRC's 15th annual National Dinner.
"We are making change. We're making real and lasting change," Obama told an enthusiastic crowd of gays, lesbians and their supporters. "We can be proud of the progress we've already made. And I'm going to continue to fight alongside you."
He added later, "I'm confident we can continue to write another chapter together."
The president listed his accomplishments for the gay and lesbian community, from the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy to passage of a hate crimes bill that contains protections for homosexuals and transgender people.
Although Obama has yet to explicitly embrace gay "marriage" in public, he implicitly gave approval to New York's recently passed gay "marriage," law, labeling as "progress" what has taken place "in legislatures like New York." He also vowed to "keep up the fight against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA), which he called discriminatory. The 1996 law defines marriage in federal law as between a man and a woman and gives states the option of not recognizing another state's gay "marriages."
"I need your help to fight for equality, to pass a repeal of DOMA, to pass an inclusive employment nondiscrimination bill so that being gay is never again a fireable offense in America," Obama said. "And I don't have to tell you, there are those who don't want to just stand in our way but want to turn the clock back, who want to return to the days when gay people couldn't serve their country openly, who reject the progress that we've made, who as we speak, are looking to enshrine discrimination into state laws and constitutions -- efforts that we've got to work hard to oppose, because that's not what America should be about."
Citizens of two states next year -- Minnesota and North Carolina -- will vote on constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. A majority of states (29) have similar amendments.
Obama also told those gathered, "We have more work to do."
Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues and representative of the convention's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals, said Obama's comments were "polarizing" and "hinder those who simply don't want to struggle with same-sex attractions or who have strongly held religious beliefs about the morality of homosexuality."
"He should refrain from ongoing attempts to marginalize those who disagree with him on this issue by ridiculing what for many of us are conclusions reached by wrestling diligently with biblical texts," Stith told Baptist Press. "He should recognize that many of us also want the very best for all our fellow countrymen. We just happen to believe that best is alignment with God's revealed will and not the latest change in the wind direction of cultural opinions."
Obama should show concern for those who are marginalized because they embrace traditional, biblical views about sexuality and marriage, Stith said. Stith cited several examples of marginalization, including one involving author Frank Turek, who conducted seminars for Cysco and Bank of America but reportedly was let go by each one because he had authored a book, "Correct, Not Politically Correct: How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone." Stith also cited Apple's decision not to allow apps for the iPhone that express biblical opposition to homosexuality and gay "marriage."
"A president who truly cared for all people would be equally concerned for this demographic as well," Stith said. "He would defend their rights and demand that they 'be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.'"
In his speech Obama also spoke out against bullying of gays in schools, saying of gay students, "I want them to know that we love them and care about them, and they're not by themselves."
Said Stith, "The reality is that most Americans, certainly most Christians, would stand shoulder to shoulder to end this kind of treatment of any child for any reason. However, what President Obama is really saying is that we must not express any personal conviction that homosexual acts are sinful. So unless we're willing to adopt the party line, our voices aren't welcome. Thus, it isn't really about the kids after all -- it is about full acceptance of an agenda."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. A transcript of Obama's speech is available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/01/remarks-president-human-rights-campaigns-annual-national-dinner.
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