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Obama Tells LGBTs at New York Fundraiser: ‘Religious Freedom Is No Excuse’ 

Obama Tells LGBTs at New York Fundraiser: ‘Religious Freedom Is No Excuse’ 

President Barack Obama (left) and Jim Obergefell

At a Democratic fundraiser on Broadway, the president made it clear: freedom of religion isn't reason enough to deny any American their constitutional rights.

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President Obama took off the gloves as he addressed LGBT attendees at a Democratic Party fundraiser Sunday.

"We need to reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes," Obama said. He was introduced at Gotham Hall by Jim Obergefell, a plaintiff in the case that the Supreme Court narrowly decided June 26, establishing marriage equality throughout the U.S.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Democrats have long been a major source of political and financial support, and the president wasn't shy about acknowledging that support and touting his accomplishments over one and a half terms.

"We live in an America where 'don't ask, don't tell' is something that 'don't exist,'" Obama said to a huge round of applause, with audience members recognizing the 2011 repeal of the ban on gays, lesbians, and bisexuals serving openly in the armed forces.

"We've come a long way in changing hearts and minds so that trans men and women can be who they are -- not just on magazine covers, but in workplaces and schools and communities," said the president to cheers from the crowd.

"We live in an America where all of us -- LGBT or not -- are protected by a hate-crimes law that bears Matthew Shepard's name. We live in an America where a growing share of older generations recognize that love is love, and younger generations don't even know what all the fuss was about. And tonight, thanks to the unbending sense of justice passed down through generations of citizens who never gave up hope that we could bring this country closer to our founding ideals -- that all of us are created equal -- we now live in America where our marriages are equal as well."

As the crowd frequently interrupted Obama with applause, cheers, and standing ovations, he also said it's important to recognize that some Americans remain opposed to what he called the "world-wind" shift in values. "With change, with any progress, comes some unease. And as Americans, I think we have to acknowledge that. I think that it's important for us to recognize that there are still parts of the country that are getting there, but it's going to take some time."

Yet in acknowledging that as Americans, "we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions," Obama said that right must not be used to deny the constitutional rights of others.

"Even as we are respectful and accommodating genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions, we need to reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes. That's not how we move America forward," said Obama in a clear reference to several Republican presidential candidates.

"In their world, everything was terrific back in 2008, when we were in the midst of a spiral into the worst financial crisis and economic crisis since the Great Depression, when unemployment and uninsured rates were rising and when our economy was shedding jobs each month, and we were mired in two wars, hopelessly addicted to foreign oil, and bin Laden was still at large. Those were the golden years, apparently. And then, I came in and messed it all up."

The president did concede there was still some division within his own party, saying, "I think we're right on most policy issues," and that the Democrats have not always been on the right side of history.

"There have been times where the Democratic Party stood in the way of progress. And there have been times where Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen, stood on the right side of change."

He made the point that federal contractors can no longer fire employees just for being gay, but he made no mention of the proposed Equality Act, which is stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Obama also called for support of efforts to ban the use of so-called conversion therapy on minors. And he made a strong plea for those in attendance to act on what he called their "unique obligation" to stand up against bigotry in all its forms:

"We speak up to condemn hatred against anybody -- gay or straight, black or white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, nonbeliever, immigrant, because we remember what silence felt like when hatred was directed at us, and we've got to be champions on behalf of justice for everybody, not just our own."

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The Advocate's news editor Dawn Ennis successfully transitioned from broadcast journalism to online media following another transition that made headlines; in 2013, she became the first trans staffer in any major TV network newsroom. As the first out transgender editor at The Advocate, the native New Yorker continues her 30-year media career, in which she has earned more than a dozen awards, including two Emmys. With the blessing of her three children, Dawn retains the most important job title she's ever held: Dad.
The Advocate's news editor Dawn Ennis successfully transitioned from broadcast journalism to online media following another transition that made headlines; in 2013, she became the first trans staffer in any major TV network newsroom. As the first out transgender editor at The Advocate, the native New Yorker continues her 30-year media career, in which she has earned more than a dozen awards, including two Emmys. With the blessing of her three children, Dawn retains the most important job title she's ever held: Dad.