Time For Dedicated Action

By Eric Radar


President Obama made history last week when he proclaimed his support for LGBT equality in his second inaugural address. Never before in American history has a president declared support for gay rights in an inaugural address, indeed the word "gay" had never before been uttered by a president at his swearing in. The president actually made several references to equality in his speech, and in a particularly powerful passage, linked the struggle for LGBT equality to the fights for women's rights and African American civil rights. President Obama said, "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal - is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall." He went on to proclaim that the "our gay brothers and sisters" deserve equality under the law in the United States. In boldly and courageously taking a stand for LGBT equality in his inaugural address, the president certainly earned the honorary title given him last year by a national magazine: America's First Gay President.

Having the president on our side is a huge thing and is something we should all celebrate and appreciate. Just a decade ago, former President George W. Bush came out firmly in favor of a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Even former President Bill Clinton, who now supports marriage equality and who prohibited anti-gay employment discrimination in the federal government, signed the extremely discriminatory "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) at a time when standing for LGBT equality was viewed as politically risky. In the span of a few years, the LGBT community has gone from outsider status in our political debates to full inclusion by our president in his political priorities and agenda. This is the president who ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and who refuses to defend DOMA in court. He is also the leader who publicly announced his support for marriage equality last May, right in the middle of his tough battle for reelection. President Obama has done far more for the cause of gay civil rights than any governmental leader in our country, and he still has four more years in office.

While the LGBT civil rights movement has moved by leaps and bounds in just the last few years, we all know there's a long way to go in achieving true equality for our community. Nine states plus Washington DC have passed laws granting marriage equality, but the majority of the states still prohibit same-sex unions. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two gay marriage-related cases. One of the lawsuits challenges DOMA, while the other concerns the constitutionality of a repeal of equal marriage rights by California voters in 2008. The tone and substance of the oral arguments in March will tell us a lot about where the court might go on the issue of marriage equality.

The next few years promise to be an exciting period for the LGBT movement in this country. We will continue to have a president who believes that we are just as deserving of equal rights as every other group in our society. President Obama has demonstrated time and again over the past four years that he supports us, not as a matter of political expediency, but out of genuine political principle. At the same time our president supports us, there still remain a lot of groups and leaders who oppose our community and will fight hard to prevent the enactment of any law that advances equality. It is up to us to back up the courage of President Obama with grassroots action. In the struggle for African American equality in the 1950s and 1960s, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all moved the government forward in using executive power to protect black citizens against discrimination. But none of the laws and orders enacted at that time would have been possible without the dedicated action of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, and quiet acts of civil disobedience and visible actions such as the March on Washington by average citizens. Ultimately, success for our community depends on the leadership of our president AND the hard work of people in the LGBT community. By his election and reelection, President Obama has helped to fulfill the dream of Dr. King, and now he has included us in that dream, too. There are great political challenges in the years ahead, but history teaches us that dedicated action by citizens and their leaders can make a difference. It's up to us to help make our president's bold words become reality.

President Obama's Second Inaugural Address:


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