Will Obama, Congress Act More Quickly on Gay Rights?

After President Obama reaffirmed his campaign promises to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans and tens of thousands of gay rights supporters marched Sunday outside his front door, it might seem the change the activists were pressing for will come quickly.

But whether broader federal protections for rights of gays and lesbians can and should come next week or next year remains a matter of debate among gays and lesbians, members of Congress and the Obama administration.

One item that has been on the gay civil rights agenda more than a decade -- expanding federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on gender, gender identity and sexual orientation -- may be resolved this week, as the Senate is expected to act on legislation passed by the House last week. Obama pledged Saturday he's ready to sign it into law.

Video from the gay rights march in Washington, D.C.
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But other issues, including ending the ban on gays and lesbians openly serving in the miluitary and overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, face slim prospects for quick action on the Hill and little effort by the president to push the matter. Patience among gays for progress on these policies -- seen as "fundamental issues of equality" -- is wearing thin.

"We are tired of the compromises and delays," Cleve Jones, organizer of Sunday's march, told ABC News. "The trouble with a long list of demands like we have is the tendency that [Congress] will ask for priorities. But there are no fractions of equality. We are equal in every respect and true equality can only come from the federal government."

Video of President Obama addressing the Dont Ask, Dont Tell policy at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington, D.C.
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Standing outside the White House Sunday, Robert Englehart, an Obama supporter and gay man, held a sign calling on the president and congressional Democrats to "Use it or Lose it," referring to the legislative mandate they hold as political majorities.

"If you have the power that you have, and you don't make the change in America that you campaigned on, then America will turn against you," Englehart said.

That reality is not lost on many in the administration, which is working feverishly to pass its signature domestic policy legislation -- health care reform. But even as thousands marched down Pennsylvannia Avenue, many gay activists conceded Obama isn't likely to advance their agenda until his first legislative priority is signed into law.

Video: Thousands gather on the National Mall for gay rights.
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Growing Impatience for Action on Gay Civil Rights

For Englehart and thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, having to wait for broader federal support for gay rights is frustrating. But they're not ready to turn against Obama just yet.

"I'm a big supporter -- a maxed-out contributor -- for Obama," Englehart said. "But I'm just disappointed."

Sunday's National March for Equality occurred hours after 3,000 gay and lesbian advocates cheered Obama during his speech Saturday night at a dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay advocacy group.

Video: Michigan teen gay bashed.
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"We've never had a stronger ally in the White House. Never," HRC president Joe Solomonese said before Obama spoke.

During his speech, the president reiterated his support for the gay community but offered no details or a timeline for when the changes in federal policy would be accomplished.

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