President Barack Obama told around 600 LGBT guests at a Democratic fund-raising dinner in Manhattan on Thursday that same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples — but, as expected, he did not endorse New York’s same-sex marriage legislation, praising instead the New York Legislature for doing “exactly what democracies are supposed to do” and debating marriage equality.
“Ever since I entered into public life, ever since I have a memory about what my mother taught me, and my grandparents taught me, I believed that discriminating against people was wrong. I had no choice. I was born that way,” Obama said, referencing the title of a Lady Gaga song. “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.”
Nevertheless, he implied that the final battle for marriage equality should take place in the state Legislature.
“In grappling with tough and, at times, emotional issues in legislatures and in courts and at the ballot box, and, yes, around the dinner table and in the office hallways, and sometimes even in the Oval Office, slowly but surely we find the way forward,” said the president. “That’s how we will achieve change that is lasting — change that just a few years ago would have seemed impossible.”
When he continued, Mr. Obama came closest to suggesting support for same-sex marriage by saying: “And I believed that discrimination because of somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity ran counter to who we are as a people. It’s a violation of the basic tenets on which this nation was founded. I believe that gay couples deserve the same human rights as every other couple in this country.”
Even as most of those in the room jumped up to applaud, whoop and holler, a woman yelled out for the first of several times, “Marriage!” Several others took up the chant.
“I heard that,” Mr. Obama said. “Believe it or not I anticipated that.”
Obama then listed, to a smattering of heckles and also several rounds of cheers, his administration’s LGBT rights achievements. Perhaps sensing that some kind of positive and definitive comment would have to be made on gay marriage, Obama reiterated, in quite strong terms, why the administration is no longer defending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, saying “Part of the reason DOMA doesn’t make sense is that traditionally marriage has been decided by the states.”
Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said prior to the event that Obama would not be shifting his now long-”evolving” position on gay marriage and that supporters should not expect to see him advocating for any particular side where New York’s marathon “will they, won’t they” same-sex marriage debate is concerned.
Regarding the New York marriage equality bill itself, signs are that New York’s Republican-controlled Senate may finally be ready to debate Gov. Cuomo’s program bill, with sources saying that religious exemptions have now been agreed upon.
If the bill does come to a floor vote Friday it is widely believed the legislation will pass.
Any changes to the bill will then have to be voted on by the Assembly, who approved Cuomo’s bill over a week ago, but no roadblock is anticipated in the Democratically-controlled lower chamber.
Photo by Chuck Kennedy (Official White House photo) (The Official White House Photostream on Flickr) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons