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Originally published May 10, 2012 at 4:44 PM | Page modified May 11, 2012 at 12:02 PM

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Obama tells Seattle crowd: 'We are moving forward' on equality

President Obama gave a speech in Seattle that acknowledged the economy is still struggling, but he drew the biggest applause for his passing references to support for gay rights and women's rights to make their own health-care decisions.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Obama campaigns in Seattle

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thanks but how about moving forward on the economy? MORE
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President Obama told supporters at a Paramount Theatre fundraiser Thursday that a vote for Republican rival Mitt Romney was a vote for going "backwards on equality."

In a speech that also acknowledged the struggling economy, Obama drew the biggest applause in his passing references in support of gay rights and women's health care.

He pointed out Washington voters' upcoming ballot measure on gay marriage and said Americans should be able to find success regardless of their circumstance, "no matter what you look like, no matter what your last name, no matter who you love."

The crowd at the Paramount, seated around tables on the main floor, rose to its feet to cheer wildly.

Without referring directly to marriage, Obama expanded on the theme of same-sex equality.

"We are moving forward to a country where every American is treated with dignity and with respect, and here in Washington you'll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly," Obama said. "You'll have a chance to weigh in on this. We are a nation that treats people fairly."

Opponents of the new law allowing same-sex marriage said this week they have more than half of the signatures they need to qualify a proposed referendum seeking to overturn the measure. Backers of Referendum 74 need 120,577 valid voter signatures.

Another effort seeking to overturn gay marriage is still ongoing. Initiative 1192 was filed in January.

The president seemed to speak directly to women in the audience when he said, "I want women to control their own health choices ... just like I want my daughters to have the same economic opportunities as your sons."

The president was not shy in his attacks on his opponent, saying Republican Mitt Romney "learned the wrong lessons" from his career in the private sector, wrongly believing that his own success "as the CEO of a large financial firm" means everyone else is making money, too.

Much of his speech focused on creating more opportunities for middle-class Americans through more affordable education and job creation.

"We can't return to the policies that got us here in the first place," he said. Electing another Republican would mean fighting the same political battles about health care and taxes for another four years, he said.

Obama touted his accomplishments, including higher emissions standards for cars, adding jobs in renewable energy, health care reform, killing Osama bin Laden, and ending the war in Iraq.

The president mentioned his plans to end the war in Afghanistan, as well, and said half the money being spent on wars should be paying down the deficit, instead.

"The nation we need to build is our own," he said.

After speaking for 30 minutes, he then shook hands with supporters who made their way to the front of the theater.

Earlier, Obama held a high-dollar fundraiser at the private Denny-Blaine home of Ann and Bruce Blume as part of his four-hour fundraising swing through Seattle. There, he gave a casual, 11-minute speech about getting the economy back on track and ensuring all Americans have the opportunities he had, including access to a college education.

He contrasted his plan with what he said is the Republicans' "narrow vision" that says: "If I'm doing well, it's up to everyone else to figure out their own way."

After Seattle, Obama was on his way to a lavish West Coast fundraiser hosted by actor George Clooney in Los Angeles' Studio City area, the heart of celebrity gay-marriage activism.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report. Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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