Countering criticism that he has done little to advance gay rights, President Obama commemorated the 40th anniversary yesterday of the birth of the modern movement by welcoming its leaders to the White House and reaffirming his commitment to their top priorities.
“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,’’ Obama told members of the core Democratic constituency as he and his wife Michelle hosted a cocktail-and-appetizer reception in the East Room marking the four decades since the police raid on New York City’s Stonewall Inn that spurred gay rights activism across the country.
Since Obama took office in January, some activists have complained that he has not followed through quickly enough on his campaign promises, including one to rescind the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy that prevents homosexuals from serving openly in the military and to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between men and women and allows states to ignore gay marriages performed in other states.
“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 earlier this month, he issued a presidential memorandum expanding some federal benefits to same-sex partners.
Critics have pointed out that it doesn’t include health benefits or pension guarantees. Obama also said the administration is working to pass an employee nondiscrimination bill and a hate crimes bill that includes protections for gays and lesbians, and he said it is committed to rescinding a ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status.
New standards for lamps called no small matter
Aiming to keep the focus on climate change legislation, Obama put in a plug yesterday for administration efforts to make lamps and lighting equipment use less energy.
“I know light bulbs may not seem sexy, but this simple action holds enormous promise, because 7 percent of all the energy consumed in America is used to light our homes and businesses,’’ the president said, standing beside Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the White House.
Obama said the new efficiency standards he was announcing for lamps would result in substantial savings between 2012 and 2042, saving consumers up to $4 billion annually, conserving enough energy to power every US home for 10 months, reducing emissions equal to the amount produced by 166 million cars a year, and eliminating the need for as many as 14 coal-fired power plants.
The president also said he was speeding the delivery of $346 million in economic stimulus money to help improve energy efficiency in new and existing commercial buildings.
Republicans took issue with Obama’s pitch.
“Conservation is only half the equation,’’ said Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader. “Even as we use less energy, we need to produce more of our own. We have to admit there’s a gap between the clean, renewable fuel we want and the reliable energy we need.’’
Just days before the event was added to the president’s schedule, the House narrowly approved the first energy legislation designed to curb global warming, following furious lobbying by White House advisers and personal pressure from Obama.