WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that there is a "profound recognition" in the country that gays must be treated like every other American. Yet days after New York state legalized same-sex marriage, the president refused to endorse such unions himself.
Obama praised the New York decision as "a good thing," saying that "what you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues. It was contentious, it was emotional, but ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriages. And I think that's exactly how things should work."
The president also uttered forceful words in support of gay equality, but without advancing his own position – which he's described as "evolving" – in support of civil unions but not gay marriage.
"I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one. All right? And that won't be today," Obama said when pressed on his views at a White House news conference.
Obama defended his record on gay rights, pointing to decisions including repealing a ban on gays serving openly in the military and instructing the Justice Department to stop defending in court a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He said he's already done more than the previous 43 presidents combined.
"I think what you're seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they've got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out," Obama said.
"It's not going to be perfectly smooth, and it turns out that the president, I've discovered since I've been in this office, can't dictate precisely how this process moves," Obama added. "But I think we're moving in a direction of greater equality, and I think that's a good thing." At the same time, he said each state and community would be different on the issue, a reiteration of his view that marriage should be up to states.
Obama's views on gay marriage have been in the spotlight in recent days, ever since by coincidence he spoke at a gay-focused fundraiser in New York City last week just as the state's Legislature was on the verge of its vote legalizing gay marriage.
On Wednesday evening the president had another opportunity to address the gay community, at a White House reception for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.
As he did at the fundraiser in New York, Obama noted his accomplishments for the gay community, saying he'd delivered on his promises, but also said he understood there would be impatience with him and expected the community to let him know about it.
"There will be times when you're still frustrated with me," the president told dozens of guests in the East Room. "I know there are going to be times when you're still frustrated with the pace of change. But what I also know is that I will continue to fight alongside you."
Polls show the public evenly split or narrowly in favor of gay marriage, and for activists the president's evolution isn't happening fast enough.
Author and sex columnist Dan Savage attended the White House reception wearing a button that said "Evolve Already."
"Politics is the art of the possible and Obama has delivered on many of his promises. ... I think the gay community has to keep the pressure on," said Savage, who was with his spouse Terry Miller. The two are recognized as married in Canada, where they tied the knot 6 1/2 years ago.