Obama: ‘We should not be punishing’ gays in the military

President Obama speaks Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington.
President Obama told nation’s largest gay rights group that his administration is “moving forward” with the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans serving this country,” Obama said. Obama’s speech at Saturday’s dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group, comes as activists have lost patience over the lack of change to key issues for the gay community. “I think there was a lot of excitement that things were going to change and I think there is impatience that there hasn’t been change fast enough,” said Steve Elmendorf, a gay Democratic lobbyist. Gays and lesbians expected more action from Obama, such as delivering on his campaign promise to urge Congress to pass legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” — a policy banning homosexuals from serving openly in the military. Another issue is same-sex marriage, a battleground point in many states. While the president does not support same-sex marriage, he does want to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

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“The bottom line is we have to move from memo signings — which he did during Pride Week — to bill signings,” said one leading gay rights advocate, an Obama supporter who asked not to be named to avoid alienating the White House. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday that Obama will discuss “a range of issues,” including hate crimes protections, which “are long overdue, in the president’s opinion.” Legislation was passed in the House this week widening the definition of hate crimes to include attacks based on sexual orientation and gender identity — a move that Obama believes “represents an important step,” Gibbs said. Obama “looks forward to, when that legislation gets to his desk, signing it and making that the law of the land,” Gibbs added. “I think that’s certainly part of what he’ll discuss on Saturday night,” Gibbs said. A White House official, who requested anonymity, said Obama’s remarks will focus on the steps he has and will take on issues affecting gays and lesbians. “We expect the president to talk about the progress he has made in just the last 10 months. From passing hate crimes, to appointing openly gay people to high-level positions, to lifting the HIV-travel ban which has been in place for 20 years,” according to a representative from a leading gay rights group. “Like many in our community, we’d specifically like him to address more definitively repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,” the source said. “The president’s beliefs about repeal are well-known, we are just interested in exact roadmap of how we get there.”