President enters N.Y. same-sex marriage fray

The latest battle over same-sex marriage is going on right now in New York.

And, as CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller reported on "The Early Show," President Obama stepped into the debate at a New York City fundraiser with gay and lesbian donors Thursday night.

Obama stops short of backing same-sex marriage

Mr. Obama said at the event, "I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country."

Most of his words were met with applause from a packed room of 600 well-heeled gay and lesbian campaign donors. But mid-speech, members of the audience began chanting, "Marriage. Marriage. Marriage," protesting over what Mr. Obama didn't offer -- an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

The president replied to their chants, "I heard you guys."

He later said, "Traditionally marriage has been decided by the states, and right now, I understand there's a little debate going on here in New York."

Mr. Obama's speech coincidentally came at the same time state lawmakers in Albany are debating a same-sex marriage bill. If it passes, New York would be the sixth -- and largest -- state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

The president openly supports civil unions for gay couples, but not gay marriage, a position The White House describes as "evolving." Some at the fundraiser said it's not evolving fast enough.

One event attendee told CBS News, "I wish that he would be a lot more convincing and supportive."

Politico White House reporter Julie Mason said of the president's position, "He doesn't want to alienate some moderates who are not really comfortable with the president taking that strong a stand on gay marriage. So it's a bit of a political calculation. Also, I'm just not sure he personally believes it. He has never indicated that has."

Gay rights activists say for a president elected on a platform of "inclusion," denying any group of equal rights should be uncomfortable.

Christin Meador, an activist with the group Queer Rising, said, "For him to come here at this historic moment and say things, but not mention anything about the battle that we're going through, or not come out finally and support marriage equality is unacceptable."

But with an election looming, it's highly unlikely that Mr. Obama's position on same-sex marriage will change anytime soon.

On "The Early Show" Jacob Bernstein, who covers the same-sex marriage debate as a senior reporter for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, said while Mr. Obama hasn't come out in support of same-sex marriage, he has done more for gay rights than any other president before him.

"You know, he struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, he's repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' he signed major anti-hate crimes legislation. So you know, he has done a large amount and he supports everything but calling it marriage. You know, he says that gay couples should have the same rights."

"Early Show" co-anchor Jeff Glor noted the event in New York was $35,000 per guest.

"This is clearly, financially, a very important group for the president," Glor said.

"Yes, it is," Bernstein said. "It's clearly an important group, and he does need their enthusiasm, you know? I mean, there is on one hand this argument, well, the gays have nowhere to go, and that's probably true. I don't think you'd find any real argument that, you know, that gay people would be better off with Mitt Romney, but he does need enthusiasm going into 2012. He does not have the same financial advantage that he had in 2008. You know, you still have a nasty recession and a nasty job market, and no president has won re-election with unemployment being as high as it is since FDR. I think there are various reasons why Obama can win again, but it's, you know, he needs enthusiasm, both from his base and the center."

As for New York, Bernstein said the state may not be as liberal as people like to think. He pointed out the state currently has a republican-controlled Senate and hasn't had a Democratic mayor in more than 20 years.

Bernstein said, "We've had Republican mayors who support gay rights, but upstate, it's a very different thing than it is in New York City. And even in places like the Bronx and Staten Island, there is real opposition to this. So, it's certainly disappointing to gay rights activists that it's taken this long, but there is an explanation for it, I think."

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