US gay and lesbian activists gathered in Washington on the weekend to pressure President Barack Obama to overturn the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ military policy and the national ban on gay marriage.
Thousands gathered in the streets waving flags and holding signs in a large show of support for equal rights, with many concerned the President is not moving fast enough on gay rights issues.
The protest followed a speech by Obama Saturday night in which he renewed his pledge to overturn the military policy and offered his support for same-sex relationship rights.
“I will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. That is my commitment to you,” Obama said.
The speech was made at a gala fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay advocacy group in the US.
‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was introduced in 1993 under former president Bill Clinton to prevent military personnel being questioned by their superiors about their sexuality. The act of homosexuality, however, is still a dischargeable offence.
Although activists welcomed Obama’s assurance, they criticised the President for not committing to a firm timeframe to overturn the military policy and said he was falling behind on early campaign promises to improve gay rights.
Obama has thrown his weight behind legislation currently before the Senate which expands the definition of hate crimes to include attacks based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after a gay student who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998, is expected to pass.
Shepard’s mother, Judy, spoke at the weekend protest.

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