President Obama on Monday defended his view that gay couples should have the right to marry, saying the country has never gone wrong when it "expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody."
"That doesn't weaken families. That strengthens families," he told gay and lesbian supporters and others at a fundraiser hosted by singer Ricky Martin and the LGBT Leadership Council. "It's the right thing to do."
The remarks were his first to such an audience since he announced his personal support for same-sex marriage last week and came on a day that Obama was making a targeted appeal to three core voting blocs -- women, young people and gays and lesbians.
They also came as Obama was being dubbed by a Newsweek cover story as "the first gay president." In a new take on author Toni Morrison's 1990s tongue-in-cheek declaration that Bill Clinton was the nation's "first black president," the newsmagazine's May 21 issue featured an essay by gay staffer Andrew Sullivan who hailed Obama's public support of gay marriage. The magazine cover features Obama looking off into the distance, a rainbow-glow halo above his head.
Democrats hope Obama's politically risky embrace of gay marriage will re-energize supporters who had been frustrated by his previous assertions that his views on the hot-button social issue were "evolving."
Obama also called for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. His administration has refused to defend the law in court challenges, and while Obama has voiced support for its repeal before, he specifically named repeal as a goal.
GOP rival Mitt Romney has said he believes marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman.
Earlier in the day, during a commencement address at Barnard College, Obama urged the graduates to fight for their place at "the head of the table" and help lead a country still battered by economic woes toward brighter days. "I believe that the women of this generation will help lead the way," he said.
The president's choice of Barnard as his first commencement address of the spring underscored the intense focus both candidates have placed on women. A poll conducted earlier this month showed Obama with a sizable advantage over Romney with women voters, 54 percent to 39 percent.
Obama acknowledged that today's college graduates are entering a shaky job market. To those who say overcoming the nation's challenges isn't possible, Obama said, "Don't believe it.
"Young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, they didn't just do it for themselves, they did it for other people," Obama said. "That's how we achieved women's rights, that's how we achieved voting rights, that's how we achieved workers' rights, that's how we achieved gay rights, that's how we've made this union more perfect."