WASHINGTON (BP)--President Obama became the first chief executive to host a White House ceremony celebrating "gay pride" Monday, telling several hundred homosexual guests in the East Room that America still has what he called "old attitudes" about homosexuality but that they have "an ally and a champion" in the Oval Office.
The June 29 ceremony marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots -- which launched the modern-day "gay rights" movement -- and also Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month, which takes place each June and which was recognized by an Obama proclamation at the beginning of the month.
Conservative commentators were quick to note that the White House ceremony came only a month and a half after Obama chose not to host -- as was a custom under the Bush administration -- a White House event commemorating the National Day of Prayer.
Monday's event was historic; even though former President Clinton signed "Gay Pride Month" proclamations, he never hosted a White House ceremony celebrating it.
During a 15-minute speech, Obama reiterated his opposition to the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which gives states the option of not recognizing another state's "gay marriages." His line on DOMA drew perhaps the loudest applause.
"I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that," he said. "... But I say this: We have made progress and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.... 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."
Saying he "deeply appreciate[s]" their support -- exit polls showed he carried 70 percent of the national homosexual vote -- Obama said, "I want you to know that you have our support, as well."
"There are unjust laws to overturn and unfair practices to stop," he said. "And though we've made progress, there are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbors or even family members and loved ones, who still hold fast to worn arguments and old attitudes, who fail to see your families like their families, and who would deny you the rights that most Americans take for granted."
Such language about "worn arguments" and "old attitudes" frustrated evangelicals, who say their views about the sinfulness of homosexuality are based on unchangeable biblical teachings. Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues and representative of the denomination's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals (SBCTheWayOut.com), said evangelicals haven't "arrived at our conclusions on homosexuality lightly."
"It isn't simply that we believe homosexuality is sin," Stith told Baptist Press. "We have wrestled with the texts, with the new apologetics of many activists and have come to a genuine, heartfelt belief that Scripture is clear on this."
If "God says something is wrong," Stith said, then those who deviate from God's commands are missing "out on God's best" and are "in an adversarial relationship with God." Obama's words, Stith said, marginalizes not only evangelical Christians but also those homosexual persons who desire to change.
"If God says something is wrong, He also provides a way out," Stith said. "If, as seems evident, Mr. Obama is intent on marginalizing or eradicating any who hold to traditional biblical convictions, then he also eliminates the hope of many who struggle with same-sex attractions and want to be free from that struggle. It is tragic to think of the thousands of young men and women who will opt for an immoral choice without having the opportunity to hear all the options. This is neither compassionate, tolerant nor an expression of true freedom."
Stith added he is concerned about Obama's desire to "push through laws that will punish viewpoints."
In early June, Obama issued an LGBT Pride Month proclamation that went further than even that of President Clinton's in its pro-homosexuality slant. For instance, it mentioned for the first time "transgender" people -- a category that includes cross-dressers and those undergoing sex changes. It also called for repealing two policies supported by Clinton: Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.
"If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that there are good and decent people in this country who don't yet fully embrace their gay brothers and sisters -- not yet," Obama said Monday. "... We must continue to do our part to make progress -- step by step, law by law, mind by changing mind. And I want you to know that in this task I will not only be your friend, I will continue to be an ally and a champion and a president who fights with you and for you."
Said Stith, "While Mr. Obama acknowledges that there are good and decent people who do not agree with his views on homosexuality, he makes it clear that ultimately we must change our minds. And he also makes clear that one way he will do that is by changing laws."
Obama's opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act has frustrated conservative leaders, particularly because he simultaneously claims he opposes "gay marriage." DOMA prevents the federal government from legalizing "gay marriage" and gives states the option of doing the same.
Conservatives say overturning DOMA not only would force the federal government to recognize "gay marriages" from Massachusetts and other states but could force all 50 states to do the same.
Byron Babione, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group which opposes "gay marriage," called Obama's statement on DOMA "a nonsense statement."
"DOMA actually protects the right of states to determine social policy with respect to marriage," Babione previously told Baptist Press. "It allows states the freedom to protect marriage between a man and a woman and not to have the same-sex marriages of other states imposed upon them.... Repealing DOMA actually does the opposite of protecting states' rights.... Repealing of DOMA also would do untold damage to the benefits that marriage brings to society. It would open the way to defining marriage and its value out of existence."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read Obama's full speech, visit www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-LGBT-Pride-Month-Reception/. To read how "gay marriage" impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here.