Obama speaking at gay fundraiser in NYC as state Legislature deliberates gay marriage

Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Talk about timing. President Barack Obama is about to hold a gala fundraiser in New York City on Thursday for gay supporters — his first as president — just as the New York state Legislature stands on the brink of legalizing gay marriage.

The coincidence of timing and place will inevitably spotlight the piece of Obama’s record that causes greatest consternation for the gay community: his failure to endorse gay marriage.

After getting off to what gay activists viewed as a slow start on their issues, Obama won over many by repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military and by instructing the Justice Department to stop defending in court a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

On gay marriage, though, the president has disappointed gay supporters. He endorses civil unions but not marriages for gay and lesbian couples, although he’s also said his views on the issue are evolving — as are the country’s as a whole.

It doesn’t appear, however, that the president’s views will evolve fast enough for him to use Thursday night’s campaign fundraiser as an opportunity to embrace gay marriage. White House officials say not to expect any new stance from Obama at the event, a star-studded gala with as many as 600 guests paying up to $35,800 each at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers.

Given the setting, though, the president will have little choice but to address the action by the New York Legislature in some way, and his words are certain to be carefully parsed, given the evolution and nuances of his stance. He’ll be addressing a roomful of supporters described by the Democratic National Committee as “allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community” — his first fundraiser geared specifically toward the gay community.

Activists hope that the prospect of momentous action by the Legislature to make New York the sixth and by far largest state to legalize same-sex marriage will create enough pressure to move the president closer to an endorsement of gay marriage.

“I do not think that he is going to articulate a new position on Thursday, but I do think that the timing of what we think will be a big win in New York … does up the pressure on him to do something and might just create enough of a political magic moment to bring about a surprise,” said Richard Socarides, head of the advocacy group EqualityMatters and a longtime gay rights advocate who advised President Bill Clinton.

If Obama were to endorse gay marriage, it would give a jolt of enthusiasm to his progressive 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 in 2012, though, since the Republican field’s general opposition to gay rights gives activists no alternative to Obama.

At the same time, supporting gay marriage could alienate some religious voters the politically cautious White House might still hope to win over for Obama’s re-election campaign.

The White House, though, says the only question is the president’s own evolution on the issue, the timing and pace of which are known only to him.


Comments are closed.