NEW YORK – Treading carefully, President Barack Obama praised New York state lawmakers who were debating landmark legislation Thursday to legalize gay marriage, saying that’s what democracy’s all about. But as expected, the president stopped short of embracing same-sex marriage himself, instead asking gay and lesbian donors for patience.
“I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” the president said at a Manhattan fundraiser, his first geared specifically to the gay community. Coincidentally, the long-planned event occurred just as lawmakers in Albany were debating legislation that would make New York the sixth and by far the largest state to legalize gay marriage.
That served to spotlight the president’s own views on same-sex marriage, a sore point with gay supporters. The president has said his views are “evolving,” but for now he supports civil unions, not same-sex marriage.
Obama told of receiving a letter last year from a teenager in a small town. He said the boy was a senior in high school who was gay and was afraid to come out. The boy wondered to the president why gays shouldn’t be equal like everyone else.
“Yes, we have more progress to make,” Obama said. “Yes, I expect continued impatience with me on occasion.”
He said teenagers such as the one who wrote to him “remind me that there should be impatience when it comes to the fight for basic equality. We’ve made enormous advances just in these last two and half years. But there’s still young people out there looking for us to do more.”
In a direct appeal for votes, Obama said: “With your help, if you keep up the fight, if you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story.”
If Obama were to endorse gay marriage, it would give a jolt of enthusiasm to his liberal base and perhaps unlock additional fundraising dollars from the well-heeled gay community. It’s not clear it would get him too many additional votes, because the Republican field’s general opposition to gay rights gives activists no alternative to Obama.