By: Mark Landler
President Obama, speaking two weeks after the military ended a ban on openly gay service members, told a prominent gay-rights group here on Saturday night that "no one has to live a lie to serve the country they love."
Mr. Obama received a jubilant reception from the audience at a dinner held by the group, the Human Rights Campaign. He was greeted with a standing ovation and was interrupted him several times with raucous applause, particularly when he declared that " "don't ask, don't' tell is history."
The president strongly supported the repeal of that policy, which prevented openly gay and lesbian soldiers from serving in the military, and he signed the order ending it in December. Gay men and lesbians, he said, were proudly serving around the world --- the only difference being that they could now display their family photos.
In a sharp jab at the Republican presidential field, Mr. Obama noted that none of the candidates protested when members of the audience at a recent debate booed a gay soldier who had served in Iraq.
"You want to be commander in chief," the president said, drawing cheers, "you can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it's not politically convenient."
On Saturday evening, at least, the audience seemed ready to overlook that Mr. Obama had not declared his support for same-sex marriage, a refusal that has rankled many gay men and lesbians.
"Every single American --- gay, bisexual and transgender --- deserves to be treated equally before the law," the president said, the closest he came on Saturday to endorsing same-sex marriage rights.
Mr. Obama has said his views on same-sex marriage are "evolving." But since June, when New York State passed a law legalizing such marriages, he has come under mounting pressure to take a stand. At a gay pride reception at the White House shortly after the New York law was passed, one guest wore a button on his lapel that said, "Evolve already."
On Saturday, the president drew attention to other measures he had taken, including legislation requiring hospitals to allow people access to same-sex partners who are patients, an anti-hate-crime law and his order to the Justice Department not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Mr. Obama managed to get in a plug for his $447 billion jobs bill, urging the Human Rights Campaign's members to put pressure on Congress to pass the bill.
He also reeled off a couple of jokes. Noting that he had just returned from California, Mr. Obama said he had "held some productive bilateral talks with your leader, Lady Gaga." The pop diva, with sky-high heels and hair, had towered over the president at a fund-raiser in Atherton, Calif.
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 2, 2011
An earlier version of this blog post contained a partially incorrect quotation by President Obama. He said, "You want to be commander in chief, you can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it's not politically convenient." He did not say, "You want to be commander in chief, you can start by standing up for the people wearing the uniform of the United States, even when it's not politically convenient."