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Aubrey Sarvis

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Rousing Speech, Mr. President, But the Pressure Continues

Posted: 10/11/09 12:58 AM ET

First the good news. For the first time as president, Barack Obama said at the Human Rights Campaign extravaganza in Washington Saturday evening, "I will end 'don't ask, don't tell.' That is my commitment to you."

It was hard to doubt his sincerity. And he gave a number of the usual good reasons for abolishing the no-gays-need-apply policy: aside from the compelling matter of simple justice and fairness, the military needs men and women, regardless of sexual orientation; you don't have to be straight to translate Arabic; no one is defined solely by sexual orientation or gender identity; and so on.

And now let's deal with the critical missing links. The president, fresh from his Nobel Prize for Peace, didn't mention anything about a timeline, and as he has said on other occasions, nothing happens in Washington without a timeline. Nothing will happen without a bill to sign, either, and he didn't tell us that he's asking Congress to send him one. In fact--and I hate to say this because I still have a lot of hope in this president--he missed an opportunity tonight.

Specifically, he didn't say how or when he's going to get the DADT law abolished and a new law passed that eliminates statutory prejudice against LGBT people and institutes open service.

"I'm here with a simple message," he began to prolonged applause: "I'm here with you in that fight." A little later he directly confronted an inconvenient truth: "Progress may be taking longer than you would like," but he added that we should never doubt the destination. I do not doubt it. I do not doubt the president's commitment. I just wonder how and when we're going to get there, and he was notably short of specifics on that.

But on the bright side, "it's not for me to counsel you to be patient." Good. Hundreds or our service members discharged just since President Obama took office and another 65,000 LGBT patriots now serving on active or reserve duty continually looking over their shoulder and the threat of discharge always in their minds, they don't allow us to be patient even if we wanted to be.

"Continue to pressure me," the president urged. Not to worry, Mr. President, we will -- starting tonight and Sunday with the Equality March. As I've said before, what we're marching for is nothing special -- and that is exactly the point. We're marching because we want what virtually every other American already has: equal treatment under the law, in the military and in every area of life to which such basically un-American laws as "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act extend.

Lest you misunderstand, Mr. President, your speech tonight illuminated the situation of LGBT Americans in a way no presidential speech in American history has done. It offered insight and texture, and laid the core foundation of the argument for full citizenship and participation in the American dream. The question will be, as some of the commentators noted afterwards, how to get this done, including how to get DADT repealed in 2010. The speech was dead on. We know that's what you want. The machinery of Congress and your administration, including Secretary Gates the Department of Defense, must now come together before the Senate "don't ask, don't tell" hearing takes place this fall.

Now's the time to lead, Mr. President. Show us how to get there.