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Obama reaffirms support for gay-rights activism

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press

Obama_Gay_Rights_sff_embedded_prod_affiliate_56 WASHINGTON -- Countering criticism that he's done little on gay rights, President Barack Obama commemorated the 40th anniversary of the birth of the modern movement by welcoming its leaders to the White House and reaffirming his commitment to their top priorities.

"I want you to know: You have our support," Obama told members of the core Democratic constituency as he and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a cocktail-and-appetizer reception in the East Room for gay pride month. It's been some four decades since the police raid on New York City's gay Stonewall Inn that spurred gay rights activism across the country.

As activists work to change minds and change laws, Obama added: "I will not only be your friend, I will continue to be an ally and a champion and a president who fights with you and for you."

Since Obama took office in January, some activists have complained that Obama has not followed through on his campaign promises on issues they hold dear and has not championed their causes from the White House, including ending the ban on gays in the military.

Obama pleaded for patience.

"I know many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough. And I understand that," Obama said. But he added: "I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by promises that my administration keeps."

By the time he leaves office, the president said, "I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

The crowd erupted in cheers.

He noted that he has issued a presidential memorandum expanding some federal benefits to same-sex partners. Critics have noted that it doesn't include health benefits or pension guarantees.

Obama also reminded the audience that he has called on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. Still, he added: "We have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate existing divides."

He said that does not mean he doesn't back a repeal of the law.

Obama also said the administration is working to pass an employee nondiscrimination bill and a hate crimes bill that includes protections for gays and lesbian, and he said it's committed to rescinding a ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status.

Obama reiterated his support for repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they don't disclose their sexual orientation or act on it. He said he doesn't believe the policy makes the United State more secure, and he said his administration is working with Congress to develop a plan that will end the practice legislatively in a way that ensures the new policy works in the long term.

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