You might think that President Obama's first fundraiser for gay donors in a state that may be on the verge of legalizing gay unions would be a perfect time to announce that he fully supports marriage equality. That's what many attendees thought, but instead Obama continued to dance around the issue and even botched a Lady Gaga joke.
Last night Obama spoke before about 600 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people at the "Gala With The Gay Community" in New York. The New York Times reports that the mostly-male audience paid $1,250 each to attend, though MSNBC says some paid up to $35,800. Obama's spokesman had announced earlier in the day that he wouldn't be making any major announcements on his famously "evolving" stance on gay marriage — but audience members were still hoping he'd surprise them. It made for an awkward speech, or rather, as awkward a speech as one of the smoothest men on the planet can muster.
His 25-minute remarks recapped the pro-LGBT issues he's supported, such as the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," a new hate-crimes law, and telling the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA. He declared his general belief that "gay couples deserve the same human rights as every other couple in this country," and even threw in a Lady Gaga reference:
"Ever since I had a memory about what my mother taught me, and my grandparents taught me, I believed that discriminating against people was wrong. I had no choice, I was born that way ... In Hawaii."
The Times says this was met with "appreciative laughter," but we'd say it was more of a sympathy laugh. It sounds like either his timing was off, or he overestimated the song's popularity with adults willing to shell out thousands for a political fundraiser.
At several points during Obama's speech, a woman in the audience yelled "marriage!" After he was heckled while declaring, "That's why I ordered federal agencies to extend the same rights to gay couples that go to straight couples, wherever possible," he finally responded, turning to her and saying "I heard that. Believe it or not I anticipated that." He may have anticipated it, but apparently he had nothing to say on the subject. He picked up his speech right where he left off.
The President didn't quite endorse the proposal to legalize gay marriage in New York (which was postponed last night) but he suggested once again that the matter should be left up to the states, and encouraged audience members to "keep up the fight." While Obama has definitely supported more LGBT issues than any previous president, his refusal to fully support marriage equality has frustrated many supporters. It's very possible that he does want gays to be able to marry, but it seems he won't say it if it could cost him votes. Declaring he's for marriage equality could drive away some religious voters, and it's not like liberals are going to flock to Michele Bachmann. For now Obama is happy to accept donations from the gay community, but he isn't ready to throw his full support behind the issues they care about.