President Barack Obama Saturday took his strongest stand so far on the issue of gay rights, pledging in front of the gay community in the nation's capital to end the "don't ask-don't tell" policy and to allow gays to serve openly in the military.
"I will end don't ask-don't tell," Obama said at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner, held in Washington, D.C. Obama has referenced his commitment to end "don't ask-don't tell" in the past but has never taken as definite a stance against the policy as he did Saturday evening.
Obama didn't give a timetable as to when the policy would end, but said he would work to push legislation through Congress that would bring it to a close.
"We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country," Obama said. "We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage...especially when are are fighting two wars."
Obama also acknowledged that many naysayers believed his words wouldn't be written into law -- and attempted to convince disbelievers his plan was in motion.
"I appreciate that many of you don't believe progress has come fast enough," he said. "Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach."
The commander in chief also vowed he would work with Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and to extend health benefits to domestic partners in same-sex couples.
"My expectation is that when you look back on these years you will look back and see a time when we put a stop against discrimination...whether in the office or on the battlefield," he said.
The "don't ask-don't tell" policy played a key role in Obama's presidential campaign, as he vowed during the run to work for the rights of the gay community, especially those involved in the military.