Gay Rights Group Seeks Obama Role in State Marriage Fights

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Somonese speaks against a constitutional marriage amendment during a rally in front of the Capitol.

Among the core constituencies President Obama has been courting in recent weeks, few have as many reasons to root for his  re-election as gays and lesbians.

Obama helped pass a federal hate crimes law, repealed  ” don’t ask don’t tell,” ended a ban on HIV-positive foreign travelers to the U.S., and ensured hospital visitation rights for gay couples, among other things.  All are accomplishments he will likely tout in a speech to the LGBT community in Washington  Saturday night.

But with a coming election in which Obama’s name will appear on the ballot alongside the same-sex marriage question in at least three battleground states, advocates are now pressing the president to use the spotlight and his campaign’s ground operations to help lobby for their cause.

“One thing that would be incredibly helpful would be for the president and the administration to look out across the electoral landscape next year, understand where it is that we’re engaged in marriage fights – whether overturning the ban in Oregon, or fighting a ban in Minnesota or North Carolina – and have something to say about that,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian rights group, in an interview with ABC News.

“I think that will be important, particularly in North Carolina, where the legislature just passed a bill that would put a marriage ban on the ballot next year and where the president will find himself for the Democratic National Convention,” he said.

While Obama  opposes same-sex marriage and believes it’s an issue that each state should decide for itself, he  has also said laws explicitly barring gays from engaging in unions are discriminatory and unconstitutional.  Earlier this year, the administration dropped its legal defense of the federal  Defense of Marriage Act, and Obama has expressed support for a Democratic-sponsored effort to repeal the 1996 law.

Solmonese, who described a close working relationship with Obama and the administration, says he is not particularly troubled by the president’s own stance on gay marriage, because it’s not clear Obama’s personal endorsement would affect the debate.

But, he said, Obama’s tendency to support marriage equality in at least in some corners of the law is telling.

“He came into office opposed to [gay]  marriage, and an administration that was defending the DOMA. He now says he’s ‘evolving’ on marriage, and he and the administration have determined that DOMA is unconstitutional and not worthy of defense. And that is light-years from where any president prior to him has ever been,” Solmonese said. “So where we find ourselves as a community is kind of reading between the lines and making of his statements what we will and interpreting them as each of us might.”

Solmonese said that gays and lesbians, perhaps more than any other members of Obama’s base, have a “great deal of enthusiasm” for the president, realizing that the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates are all “fairly dangerous.

“At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is getting this guy re-elected,” Solmonese said of Obama. “Because one thing that’s really clear is where he stands and where the rest of the field stands.”

When Obama speaks at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in Washington, D.C.,  Saturday night, it will be his second address to the advocacy group since he took  office.

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