Obama, who has been criticized by many gays and lesbians because the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on open service by homosexuals remains in place, said the United States has made progress during his term in office on equal treatment for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
"We've got a lot of hard work that we still have to do, but we can already point to extraordinary progress that we've made over the past year on behalf of Americans who are gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender," he said.
Obama announced he has issued an executive order extending "as many partnership benefits to gay and lesbian federal employees as possible under current law" and said he would work for legislation to guarantee gay federal employees "the exact same benefits as straight employees -- including access to health insurance and retirement plans."
He noted the Matthew Shepard Act, named for a young man beaten and killed in Wyoming because of his sexual orientation, was enacted and signed into law last year. And he reminded the audience the Department of Health and Human Services has directed most U.S. hospitals to allow visitation rights for partners of gays and lesbians.
Obama announced that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius contacted hospitals Tuesday asking them to implement the changes now, without waiting for proposed rules to take effect.