He's been criticized by some advocates for not moving faster on their issues
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama pledged to end the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military in a speech Saturday, but acknowledged to a cheering crowd that the policy changes he promised on the campaign trail are not coming as quickly as they expected.
"I will end 'don't ask-don't tell,'" Obama said to a standing ovation from the crowd of about 3,000 at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to end the ban, but did not give a timetable or the specifics that some activists have called for.
The law was passed by Congress in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton, who also promised to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military but was blunted by opposition in the military and Congress. Obama said he's working with Pentagon and congressional leaders on ending the policy.
"We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country," Obama said. "We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage ... especially when we are fighting two wars.
Obama said it was no secret "our progress may be taking longer than we like." He followed this by asking supporters to trust his administration's course.
"I appreciate that many of you don't believe progress has come fast enough," Obama said. "Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach."
Advocating for a timeline
Some advocates said they already have heard Obama's promises — they just want to hear a timeline. Cleve Jones, a pioneer activist and creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, said Obama delivered a brilliant speech, but added "it lacked the answer to our most pressing question, which is when."
"He repeated his promises that he's made to us before, but he did not indicate when he would accomplish these goals and we've been waiting for a while now."
Obama also called on Congress to repeal the Defense Of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also called for a law to extend benefits to domestic partners.
He expressed strong support for the Human Rights Campaign agenda — ending discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people — but stopped short of laying out a detailed plan for how to get there.
"My expectation is that when you look back on these years you will look back and see a time when we put a stop against discrimination ... whether in the office or the battlefield," Obama said.
Focusing on war, economy
Obama's political energies are focused on managing two wars, the economic crisis and his attempt to reform the health care system.