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Obama keeps his word on hate crimes bill

Obama has kept a campaign promise to gays and lesbians by putting his signature on a bill to include violence against gays in federal hate crimes law.
President Barack Obama is joined by the relatives of victims of hate crimes during a reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

For this accomplishment, President Barack Obama sought maximum publicity.

There was a bill signing at a wooden desk set up in the East Room of the White House, with the media invited, followed by a reception for joyous, champagne-sipping supporters and an address to them, again, from the East Room.

Obama was keeping a campaign promise to gays and lesbians by putting his signature on a bill to include violence against gays in federal hate crimes law.

Of several such commitments to gay and lesbian supporters, it's the first one he's kept. Other promises are either pending or stalled entirely, proving a source of continued dismay for gay and lesbian advocates who worked to help him get elected.

As a candidate, Obama promised to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. He pledged to work to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how states, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also promised to outlaw job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nine months into his term, those promises are not close to being met.

While clearly pleased by Wednesday's signing ceremony, which was attended by many members of Congress who came to witness the fruits of a decade of effort, Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said there is still a lot of work to be done.

"We look forward to the days ahead when we will join together again to celebrate full equality and recognition of our community, including in employment, the military and in the full recognition of our families," Carey said.

The expanded law now also covers crimes motivated by gender identity or disability.

"No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability," Obama said,

Obama's relationship with gay activists has been rocky since his election. They objected to the participation of evangelist Rev. Rick Warren in Obama's inauguration because of Warren's support for repealing gay marriage in California. Obama responded by having Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the denomination's first openly gay bishop, participate at another event.

As president, Obama has not taken any concrete steps to urge Congress to overturn the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He restated the pledge this month in a speech at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group.

Obama also pledged during the campaign to work for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. But administration lawyers did the opposite, defending the law in a court brief. White House aides said the lawyers were only doing their jobs by supporting an existing law.