Impatient Gay-Rights Groups Keep Pressure on Obama

President Barack Obama
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By DAVID CRARY, Associated Press

The refrain sounded by his aides is accurate: Barack Obama has done more for the cause of gay rights than any president before him.

Nonetheless, gay-rights activists and organizations are on the president's case these days, pressing him for further steps on two fronts and suggesting that political timidity is holding him back.

One source of frustration is Obama's stance on same-sex marriage — he has yet to endorse it even though he advocates equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. Tensions may mount as activists and many leading Democrats call for the Democratic National Convention to support marriage equality in the platform it will adopt in September.

[Read: It's Slow Going on Gay Rights Issues for Obama.]

The other dispute involves a months-long campaign by gay-rights advocates urging Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The White House says Obama supports the goal of such workplace protections but believes the best solution is for Congress to pass the long-pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend those protections to workers in all sectors nationwide.

Many gay activists don't buy that explanation, given that the act has no chance in the current Congress. They wonder why issuing the executive order doesn't fit with Obama's recently adopted "We can't wait" strategy of taking actions that don't need congressional approval.

"I don't know their rationale — it's some bizarre political calculus," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the gay-rights advocacy group Lambda Legal. "Are we being kept on hold for another year because some hypothetical group of voters is going to freak out over job protections?"

[Photo Gallery: President Barack Obama's Re-election Campaign.]

The differences over the two issues pose a challenge not only for the White House, but also for gay-rights leaders who — however impatient — fervently want Obama re-elected and are wary of undercutting him to the point of political damage.

"Our job is to continue pushing on issues important to our community and we won't stop doing that," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign. "We fully realize that we're pushing a friend — a friend who has done more for our community than anyone who has ever held his office."

Obama's campaign, aware of the discontent, trumpets the president's role in repealing "don't ask, don't tell' so gays can serve openly in the military and his decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex couples.

"This record stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney's," said campaign spokeswoman Clo Ewing. She noted that Obama's presumed Republican opponent has been endorsed by the National Organization for Marriage, which obtained Romney's pledge to oppose same-sex marriage.

Romney has rarely raised gay-related issues on his own during the campaign, and one of his few moves that might have impressed some gays went awry this week with the resignation of Richard Grenell as his national security spokesman. Grenell is openly gay, and some conservative critics suggested that would pose problems for Romney's campaign.

Gay-rights leaders, for all their impatience with Obama, do not expect a large-scale defection of gays to support Romney. But there is concern that the differences could dampen enthusiasm among potential donors and possibly affect turnout on Election Day.

[Read: The Lowdown: Where Do Obama and Romney Stand?]

It's not just gay activists who are upset. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times, which generally support Obama, ran editorials in April criticizing his reluctance to issue the executive order.

"His hesitation to ban gay bias by government contractors, like his continued failure to actually endorse the freedom to marry, feels like a cynical hedge," the Times said.

Those lobbying for the executive order say there's ample precedent, notably a 1941 order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt banning workplace discrimination by defense contractors on the basis of race, religion or national origin.