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Obama Reaches Out to Gay Community at White House Event

"I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps," the president said to sustained applause. "We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

The administration has been attempting to tread cautiously with the gay community. While it says it intends to follow through on Obama's campaign pledges, it is also eager to avoid the appearance that the president is giving in to any one group's demands.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the event was not designed as a way to mollify the gay community or reward its support during the campaign. Several activists familiar with the planning said it had been in the works for months.

"We didn't play a lot of interest-group-based politics in the presidential race," Gibbs said.

But the necessity of such a direct restatement of the president's promises underscores the intensity with which one of Obama's key constituencies has expressed its disappointment in him during the past several weeks.

On the Internet, activists, bloggers and others have been criticizing him for not moving faster to unwind what they consider to be years of government inattention or active opposition.

In an open letter dated June 15, Joe Solmonese of Human Rights Campaign skewered the administration's legal brief filed in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, a step the White House said it is obligated to take when a law is challenged in court.

"As an American, a civil rights advocate, and a human being, I hold this administration to a higher standard than this brief," he wrote. "We call on you to put your principles into action and send legislation repealing DOMA to Congress."

Yesterday, Solmonese sounded far more optimistic that the Obama he initially thought would lead from the White House will emerge.

"He reminded us to continue to hold him accountable," he said after the event. "There certainly was the appropriate and inspiring acknowledgment that he made of what this community has been through."

Solmonese said the event helped reassure gays and lesbians "that the work continues, that the commitment is still there," adding: "It's important for people to be reassured by the president."

But other invitees left with a continuing belief that the change under Obama will not be as rapid as they might have hoped.

"We are a movement that's been waiting a very, very long time," said one gay rights activist who attended the White House event. "The last time we thought we saw some hope for our issues was [President Bill] Clinton, and we wound up with 'don't ask, don't tell.' "


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