Side step on marriage, but step forward on DADT

President Obama

President Obama

President Obama side-stepped a question Thursday about what he’s doing “now” to ensure that gay couples “are treated as equal citizens,” but there was a signal from the Pentagon that same day that movement may be coming on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The president hosted a town hall meeting at the University of Tampa January 28, less than 24 hours after delivering a State of the Union address. The purpose of the trip was to reinforce the message of the previous night—that the nation must do some more serious belt-tightening and strategic investment in infrastructure.

One message he did not repeat before the crowd in Tampa was his statement supporting repeal of the military’s policy of excluding openly gay people from the military. But a member of the audience brought it up. A University of Tampa student named Hector asked President Obama: “What are you doing now … so that same-sex couples and homosexuals are treated as equal citizens of the United States, i.e., same-sex marriages and the thousand-plus benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy after marriage?”

President Obama, echoing the words of President Clinton, said he believes the Constitution guarantees equal treatment “if you’re obeying the law, if you’re following the rules, that you should be treated the same, regardless of who you are.”

“I think that principle applies to gay and lesbian couples,” said the president. He said, at the federal level, his administration “actually has an opportunity of passing” a law to provide equal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.

“I think it’s the right thing to do and it makes sense for us to take a leadership role in ensuring that people are treated the same,” said Obama.

“Look, if you are—regardless of your personal opinions, the notion that somebody who’s working really hard for 30 years can’t take their death benefits and transfer them to the person that they love the most in the world and who has supported them all their lives, that just doesn’t seem fair,” said the president. “It doesn’t seem right. And I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters Thursday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will provide details next Tuesday, February 2, as to how the Pentagon will go about to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. According to a number of news reports, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell said Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen will make a presentation on Tuesday.

It was just seven months ago that Mullen told an ABC news program that he would need “some time…to look at—if this change occurs—to look at implementing it in a very deliberate, measured way.” And a timeline for such a change, he said, “would be set, obviously, after the law is changed.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee was already slated to hear from Gates and Mullen Tuesday regarding the annual bill reauthorizing Defense programs, now for fiscal year 2011. The portion regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is slated for noon to 1 p.m.

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