President Obama on Tuesday hailed the progress he said his administration has made for gays and lesbians, from repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
In a speech to the Democratic National Convention's LGBT Gala in New York, Obama asked the audience to compare the landscape for gays and lesbians now to 10 years ago, shortly after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage and the Republican Party and others made trying to stop it one of their biggest issues.
Today, Obama said, 19 states and Washington, D.C., allow same-sex couples to marry. The Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama rattled off a number of changes he said have taken place during his administration, including lifting a ban on people with HIV coming to the United States and making it illegal to deny people health care based on sexual orientation.
"The conventional wisdom says that all this change is due to young people growing up with different attitudes than their parents and their grandparents had. And anybody who has kids knows that there is some truth to that. The basic attitude is, I’m sorry, what is it that you’re talking about here? What’s the big deal?" Obama said.
"But what’s been remarkable is the way Americans of all age groups are increasingly embracing marriage equality. They understand love is love. And for many people whose minds have changed, it was love that did it -- love for the child or the grandchild, or the friend or the co-worker who sat down one day and held their hands and took a deep breath and said, I’m gay."
Obama's speech comes the day after the administration said he would sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation.
Despite the strides, Obama said work remains to defend what has happened. He cited the need to continue to stop bullying in schools, that the Texas Republican Party's platform endorses gay conversion therapy and that legal battles are still being waged around same-sex marriage in courts.
"This is a country where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or how you came up, or what your last name is, or who you love -- if you work hard and you take responsibility, you should be able to make it," Obama said. "That’s the story of America."
Obama called on Congress to do more to protect the rights of gays and lesbians. While the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring, the House has not acted on the measure.
Obama said the gay and lesbian community should fight for other groups that are struggling and have struggled in the past: workers who aren't getting paid enough, illegal immigrants and women who demand an equal wage.
Obama attended two other fundraisers in New York Tuesday night, including one at the home of Vogue editor Anna Wintour. It was attended by about 30 supporters, each of whom contributed up to $32,400.