For months, Obama has insisted his position on gay marriage is “evolving” but has not shifted from his previously stated view that marriage is between a man and woman. But in a coincidence of timing, the president arrived at a downtown Manhattan hotel for a long-scheduled fundraiser put on by gay and lesbian activists as the legislature in Albany was on the verge of voting whether New York will become the sixth state to allow gay marriage.
“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,” Obama told a crowd of more than 600, many of whom had come from other states to attend his first fundraiser specifically for gays in the 2012 election cycle.
He acknowledged the New York legislation, saying “right now I understand there’s a little debate going in New York.” But as some urged him to support the legislation, Obama would not.
“New York is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do. There is a debate; there is deliberation,” he said, refusing to declare a view on the bill or encourage other states to take similar action.
It was not clear how many people in the room were shouting at Obama on gay marriage. But they were loud, at one point yelling “marriage” enough times that the president stopped speaking and said, “I hear you guys.”
“Believe it or not, I anticipated” this, Obama said to laughter from many in the crowd.
While not saying explicitly that he supported gay marriage, Obama likened the heckling he received Thursday to earlier in his term, before he signed the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy that forbade people who are openly gay from serving in the military.
Although the repeal finally passed Congress in December, Obama said, it was a long process, and gay marriage would follow a similar pattern.
“Yes, I expect continued impatience with me on occasion,” he said, acknowledging the hecklers. “There should be impatience when it comes to the fight for basic equality.”
The appearance was part of three fundraisers the president squeezed into a short evening trip to Manhattan. People from at least 22 states came for the gay and lesbian event, according to organizers, donating from $1,250 to $35,800 (the legal maximum) to Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee to attend.
Actor Neil Patrick Harris was the emcee, and a number of other prominent actors attended. During a speech before Obama spoke, Harris reeled off a long list of administration accomplishments, from the president’s decision to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act to his appointment of transgender Americans to government posts.