An audience of about 600 people gave President Obama money Thursday night at an LGBT fundraising event in New York City for the Obama 2012 campaign.
In return, President Obama gave them a fairly routine campaign speech, with a few LGBT-specific references to his administration's many accomplishments benefiting the LGBT community.
However, a White House pool report said the audience's reaction to Obama's speech was "polite," even "tepid" at times, and that it was interrupted several times by "hecklers" asking Obama to say something in support of same-sex marriage.
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The speech appeared to leave some LGBT activists uneasy about the president's failure to speak out strongly in favor of marriage equality in New York when the state senate was on the verge of passing a bill to guarantee marriage equality for same-sex couples.
A number of activists staged a demonstration outside the event, held at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, urging Obama to support marriage equality.
Instead, Obama said only that he believes gay couples deserve "the same legal rights" and benefits as straight couples.
Obama has, since the 2008 campaign, spoken in favor of allowing gay couples to obtain benefits through civil unions, but he has repeatedly stopped short of endorsing equality through marriage.
He said June 23 that he has always believed that "discrimination because of somebody's sexual orientation or gender identity ran counter to who we are as a people, and it's a violation of the basic tenets on which this nation was founded."
"I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country," he said.
He noted that his administration "ordered federal agencies to extend the same benefits to gay couples that go to straight couples wherever possible," an apparent reference to the federal Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
"That's why we're going to keep fighting until the law no longer--"
The president was interrupted briefly, as members of the audience began shouting out "Marriage!"
According to the White House transcript of the event, the President acknowledged the interruption and said he "anticipated" somebody might bring up the issue.
He then said, "That's why we're going to keep on fighting until the law no longer treats committed partners who've been together for decades like they're strangers."
However, according to other news reports, some in the audience repeatedly beckoned Obama to say something in support of marriage. Instead, he highlighted his support for ending the federal ban on recognition of same-sex marriage.
"I have long believed that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act ought to be repealed. It was wrong. It was unfair," continued Obama, to applause. "And since I taught constitutional law for a while, I felt like I was in a pretty good position to agree with courts that have ruled that Section 3 of DOMA violates the Constitution. And that's why we decided, with my attorney general, that we could no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts."
More accurately, the administration decided in February not to defend DOMA in all federal courts as meeting all levels of constitutional scrutiny.
Obama did acknowledge the critical fight for marriage equality legislation in New York and noted that, "traditionally marriage has been decided by the states." But rather than throw his support behind passage of that bill, Obama said only that the New York legislature "is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do."
Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell that he was disappointed in the president's remarks.
"It's really what he didn't say tonight that left a gap and left many people still unsatisfied," said Wolfson. "The president did not come out forthrightly in support of the freedom to marry.…It's really time for the president to join the majority of Americans who now support the freedom to marry."
Obama highlighted a number of his administration's accomplishments for the LGBT community Thursday night, including passage of a federal hate crimes law, passage of a bill to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," regulations requiring hospitals receiving federal funds allow visitation for gay partners, and the development of a comprehensive national plan to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The White House pool report indicated the audience gave Obama a standing ovation.
Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias, the openly gay founder of the Obama campaign's LGBT Leadership Council, which sponsored the event, did not respond by deadline to indicate how much was raised. However, according to Bloomberg News, tickets were $1,250, suggesting about $750,000 was raised.
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