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Obama pushes gay rights, but not without criticism from activists

Many gay rights activists think Obama isn’t doing enough. But he’s in no rush on same-sex marriage or the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

By Staff writer / October 10, 2009

Ed Grandis, left, and Juan D. Rondon, hug after a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia was introduced at a city council meeting in Washington, on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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In last year’s presidential election, Barack Obama won 70 percent of the gay vote, John McCain just 27 percent.

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Does that kind of clearly dominant constituency -- one that’s more politically-attuned than the rest of the electorate -- come with any political obligation regarding gay rights? You bet it does, and this weekend Obama is acknowledging the debt.

On the eve of Sunday’s National Equality March, expected to draw thousands to Washington, he’s addressing the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.

So far, his is a mixed record.

While Obama remains opposed to marriage among same-sex couples, in June he extended some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. And he has taken steps to include among his administration openly gay officials.

John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, is the government's highest-ranking gay official. David Huebner, chief lawyer for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has been nominated ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Mr. Huebner would be just the second openly gay US ambassador. (The first was appointed by Bill Clinton.)

Marriage and the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay men and women in uniform remain the toughest issues for the nation -- and especially for Obama.

The Pew Research Center reported Friday that while most Americans favor civil unions for same-sex couples, they remain opposed to gay marriage.

It’s an issue that transcends government policy to an unusual extent, carrying significant moral and religious overtones. Pew finds that “nearly half of the public (49 percent) says homosexual behavior is morally wrong, while 9 percent say it is morally acceptable and 35 percent say it is not a moral issue.”

Meanwhile, the armed services for years have wrestled with the Pentagon’s policy regarding gay service members -- a policy which senior retired officers (and even some on active duty) increasingly have spoken out against at a time when the troops, like the relatively young cohort of Americans they’re part of, don’t see the point in discriminating against gay men and lesbians.