WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama restated his campaign pledge to allow homosexual men and women to serve openly in the military, but many in his audience of gay activists were left wondering when he would make good on the promise.
"I will end 'don't ask-don't tell,'" Obama said Saturday night to a standing ovation from the crowd of about 3,000 at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group. He offered no timetable or specifics and he acknowledged some may be growing impatient.
"I appreciate that many of you don't believe progress has come fast enough," Obama said. "Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach."
A day after the president's remarks, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he expects the ban to be lifted, but he said it's critical that the administration have the support of military leaders.
A Republican on the committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, agreed with Levin that support within the military is important and said such a policy decision shouldn't be based on a "campaign pledge." Both senators appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Some gay-rights advocates said they already have heard Obama's promises and now want a timeline. Cleve Jones, a pioneer activist and creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, said Saturday that Obama delivered a brilliant speech, but he added "it lacked the answer to our most pressing question, which is when."
"He repeated his promises that he's made to us before, but he did not indicate when he would accomplish these goals and we've been waiting for a while now," said Jones, national co-chair of a major gay-rights rally scheduled for Sunday on the National Mall.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said he was encouraged to hear Obama's pledge but added "an opportunity was missed tonight." He said his group "was disappointed the president did not lay out a timeline and specifics for repeal."
Obama also called on Congress to repeal the Defense Of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also called for a law to extend benefits to domestic partners.
He expressed strong support for the HRC agenda of ending discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people but stopped short of laying out a detailed plan for how to get there.
"My expectation is that when you look back on these years you will look back and see a time when we put a stop against discrimination ... whether in the office or the battlefield," Obama said.
Obama's political energies are focused on many issues, including managing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis and his ambitious plan to reform the health care system.
The HRC holds out hope of seeing more action.
"We have never had a stronger ally in the White House. Never," Joe Solmonese, the group's president, said at the dinner before the president spoke.
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