Obama sidesteps marriage equality at LGBT rally
NEW YORK (AFP) – President Barack Obama did not explicitly endorse the New York state senate’s bid to pass a gay marriage law at a Democratic fundraising gala in New York, sponsored by the gay and lesbian community.
New York’s state’s 62 senators had been expected to vote on the gay marriage law late Thursday, already passed by the New York state assembly last week, but adjourned before midnight without making a decision, according to NBC News.
“Right now. I understand there’s a little debate going on here in New York about whether to join five other states and DC in allowing civil marriage for gay couples,” Obama told the crowd, referring to the five US states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal.
“New York is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do. There’s a debate; there’s deliberation about what it means here in New York to treat people fairly in the eyes of the law,” Obama said, however without explicitly adding his personal backing to the legislation’s passage.
The bill needs 32 senate votes to pass, and 31 senators have already expressed their support for legalizing gay marriage, although the issue has been repeatedly rejected by the New York senate in recent years.
The six hundred mostly male attendees at the fundraiser, held at New York’s mid-town Sheraton Hotel and attended by members of New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, paid anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500 to hear Obama speak.
When he stood up to speak, Obama embraced Captain John Hopkins, a gay military officer discharged because of what was then the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which forced gay soldiers to leave the military if their sexual orientation became public.
Hopkins, who led a platoon into northern Iraq, quelled an ethnic riot and earned a Bronze Star with valor, praised Obama for ending the policy last December after 17 years.
Obama spoke broadly about the accomplishments of his administration’s first two years, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, which generated a standing ovation, before moving into the more volatile subject of gay rights.
“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,” he said.
“I had no choice,” Obama added. “I was born that way.”
Although Obama has come under fire from many in the gay community for not doing enough, his nearly half-hour address was well received by the crowd, one of his strongest constituencies.
“He is very supportive,” said art dealer Keith de Lellis. “It’s not a personal commitment, but he is supportive of the fight. He has always been like that. He is a fair and honorable politician who believes in human rights.”
For Sue Prestone, Obama’s message was “one more step… He is against any kind of discrimination. He identifies with people who are discriminated.”
Meanwhile, the New York Senate, which should have recessed Monday evening, met until late in the evening Thursday in an an extraordinary session putting the final touches on the gay marriage bill.
Sheldon Silver, president of the Democrat-majority New York state assembly, has already announced that if the senate passes their version, the house would meet to vote on the amended text.
After the assembly vote, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who introduced the bill, was expected to sign it into law.
If the law passes, New York would become the sixth and most populous state to approve gay marriage.
Currently, Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont permit same-sex marriage.
States such as Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington DC and New Jersey offer civil unions to same-sex couples, but not marriage rights.
According to a March poll, the majority of Americans are currently in favor of allowing gay marriage, 53 percent to 44 percent.