Obama vows to end ban on gay people serving in the military

Barrack Obama reaffirmed an “unwavering” commitment to end discrimination against gay people, including the ban on openly serving in the military, on the eve of a protest march through Washington today to demand the president fulfil election commitments to equal rights.

An emphatic speech to the US’s largest gay advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, on Sunday, that also included a commitment to pass hate crimes legislation, was greeted with a standing ovation. But there was scepticism from some activists frustrated at the lack of a timetable on reform of the military and Obama’s failure to take up any major gay rights issues in his first months in office.

“I appreciate that many of you don’t believe progress has come fast enough ... Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach,” said Obama.

“My expectation is that when you look back on these years, you will see a time in which we put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians, whether in the office or on the battlefield.
You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognise relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman.”

The president’s speech came the evening before today’s National Equalities march past the White House to Capitol Hill to press demands for immediate reforms, particularly of military policy and the scrapping of the Defence of Marriage Act, which was passed to block official recognition of gay marriages.

Obama said the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, which allows gay people to serve in the armed forces provided they didn’t tell anyone of their sexual orientation, was unjust.

“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country,” he said. “We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage.”

The current policy was compromise introduced in 1993 when president Bill Clinton was unable to get the military to accept openly gay service men and women. Obama will face some resistance from Republicans and some members of the military but there is much wider acceptance of gays openly serving in the US forces than 16 years ago.

However, there is likely to be greater resistance to repealing the Defence of Marriage Act.

A Democratic party senator, Robert Casey, who is co-sponsor of legislation against hate crimes and who supports scrapping discrimination in the military, said he could not support abolishment of the act.

“We can move forward on a lot of measures but I’m not sure there’s support yet for that,” he said.

Another Democratic senator, Debbie Stabenow, took a similar position because her own state of Michigan has passed a law prohibiting gay marriage.

Gay people continue to come under attack from some on the Republican right. Some members of Congress are demanding Obama drop his appointee for assistant deputy secretary of education, Kevin Jennings, because he is an activist for gay right on the grounds he is committed to “the promotion of homosexuality, even in elementary schools”. - guardian.co.uk

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