Treading carefully, President Obama praised New York State lawmakers who were debating landmark legislation Thursday to legalize gay marriage, saying that's what democracy's all about. But as expected, the president stopped short of embracing same-sex marriage himself, instead asking gay and lesbian donors for patience.
"I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country," the president said at a Manhattan fundraiser, his first geared specifically to the gay community. Coincidentally, the long-planned event occurred just as lawmakers in Albany were debating legislation that would make New York the sixth and by far the largest state to legalize gay marriage.
That served to spotlight the president's own views on same-sex marriage, a sore point with gay supporters who've otherwise warmed to Obama. The president has said his views are "evolving," but for now he supports civil unions, not same-sex marriage.
Obama said progress will be lower than some people want, but he added that he was confident that there will be a day "when every single American, gay or straight or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, is free to live and love as they see fit."
"Traditionally marriage has been decided by the states and right now I understand there's a little debate going on here in New York," he said to laughter. New York's lawmakers, he said, are "doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do."
Debate on the measure continued into the night at the statehouse, and the outcome was uncertain.
As Obama spoke, a handful of people shouted out "marriage!" And Obama said, "I heard you guys." He never directly mentioned gay marriage.
Obama said there were those who shouted at him at events about other causes of the gay community, such as the need for anti-hate crimes legislation and for the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on openly gay military service, and both of those have since been achieved.
Overall, Obama received a warm reception from the crowd of nearly 600 who paid up to $35,800 each to hear him speak at a midtown hotel.