From the NY Times:
On Monday, 250 gay leaders are to join Mr. Obama in the East Room to commemorate publicly the 40th anniversary of the birth of the modern gay rights movement: a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York. By contrast, the first time gay leaders were invited to the White House, in March 1977, they met a midlevel aide on a Saturday when the press and President Jimmy Carter were nowhere in sight.
The conflicting signals from the White House about its commitment to gay issues reflect a broader paradox: even as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases across the country, the politics of gay rights remains full of crosscurrents.
It is reflected in the surge of gay men and lesbians on television and in public office, and in polls measuring a steady rise in support for gay rights measures. Despite approval in California of a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, it has been authorized in six states.
Yet if the culture is moving on, national politics is not, or at least not as rapidly. Mr. Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. The prospects that Congress will ever send him a bill overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, appear dim. An effort to extend hate-crime legislation to include gay victims has produced a bitter backlash in some quarters: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sent a letter to clerics in his state arguing that it would be destructive to “faith, families and freedom.”
“America is changing more quickly than the government,” said Linda Ketner, a gay Democrat from South Carolina who came within four percentage points of winning a Congressional seat in November. “They are lagging behind the crowd. But if I remember my poli sci from college, isn’t that the way it always works?” ...
There are signs that the issue is not as pressing or toxic as it once was. “I don’t think it’s the political deal-breaker it once was,” said Dave Saunders, a southern Virginia Democratic consultant who has advised Democrats running for office in conservative rural areas. “Most people out here really don’t care because everybody has gay friends.”
Interviews with gay leaders suggest a consensus that there has been nothing short of a cultural transformation in the space of just a few years, even if it is reflected more in the evolving culture of the country than in the body of its laws.
“The diminution of the homophobia has been as important a phenomena as anything we’ve seen in the last 15 years,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is gay.
Democrats now control the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994, increasing the chances of legislative action. Mr. Frank said that over the next two years, he expected Congress to overturn the ban on gay service in the military, pass legislation prohibiting discrimination against hiring gay workers, and extend the hate-crime bill to crimes involving gay couples.
There is also an emerging generational divide on gay issues — younger Americans tend to have more liberal positions — that has fueled what pollsters said was a measurable liberalization in views on gay rights over the past decade ...
In the view of many gay leaders, the shifts in public attitude are a validation of the central political goal set by the dozens of gay liberation groups that sprouted up in cities and on college campuses in the months after the Stonewall uprising: to have gay men and lesbians who had been living in secret go public as a way of dealing with societal fear and prejudice.