During a first-of-its-kind sit down with progressive bloggers at the White House this afternoon, President Obama told AmericaBlog’s Joe Sudbay that he didn’t think the LGBT community’s “disillusionment and disappointment” in his approach to issues like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was justified, saying “I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history.”
Speaking directly to the DADT issue, Obama reiterated that the policy “is not just harmful to the brave men and women who are serving…but it doesn’t serve our interests.” “I think that the best way to overturn it is for Congress to act,” he insisted, revealing that he asked Log Cabin Republicans’ executive director R. Clarke Cooper, who attended yesterday’s top level meeting about ending the ban, to “Get me those votes.” After district court judge Virginia Phillips ruled the ban unconstitutional and barred the Pentagon from enforcing the policy, LGBT advocates urged Obama to agree with her interpretation of the law and refuse to appeal her decision. The administration, however, is asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the injunction and reverse the ruling, insisting that it was bound to defend existing law.
During the sit down, Obama avoided Sudbay’s question about the constitutionality of the policy since “I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court,” he said. “And I’ve got to be careful, as President of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head.” But he also hinted that he understood the community’s frustration with the pace of change, recalling how African American civil rights leaders responded to similar arguments about “patience and time”:
Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.
So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.
Responding to Sudbay’s question about the growing support for same-sex marriage, Obama reiterated his belief in civil unions but conceded that “attitudes evolve, including mine.” “And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about…while I’m not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about,” he said.
For a full transcript of Obama’s remarks, click here.