Time – Why Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech Is Historic for Gay Americans

Why Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech Is Historic for Gay Americans

By Michael A. Lindenberger / San FranciscoJan. 22, 201322 Comments


President Barack Obama gives his Inauguration Address in Washington on Jan. 21, 2013.

Second Inaugurals have been remembered before, and Monday’s speech had none of the diamond-hard eloquence and blood-soaked wisdom that Abraham Lincoln mustered nearly 150 years ago when the curtain rose on his second term. But like that speech, Barack Obama’s address this week will likely be the stuff of history — and of Hollywood. Echoing Thomas Jefferson, 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 … ”

By clearly linking the struggle for gay rights to two of the most haloed movements in U.S. history — the women’s-rights campaigns of the 19th century and the blacks’-civil-rights marches of the last century — President Obama’s speech has etched into the hearts and memories of millions of Americans the year 2013 as a moment to tell their children about. Those three moments in American history — “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” — became equal actors in the long “arc of the moral universe” that Martin Luther King Jr., in another, more controversial speech, assured his followers bends toward justice.

Both of the earlier moments referenced by Obama sought to attain greater legal rights for their participants. In 1848, it was abolitionists and women who came together at a conference in Seneca Falls, N.Y., looking to win the right to vote, among other rights, for women. And in 1965, blacks in Alabama attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery to press for their right to vote, only to be turned back almost immediately by police with clubs and tear gas. Two weeks later, armed with a federal court order, the marchers made it to the capital. Five months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Stonewall in 1969 was different. It had none of the stateliness of the older movements and none of their careful planning. It exploded when police rousted patrons of a popular gay bar called the Stonewall Inn early one Saturday morning. At the time, homosexuality was illegal in many states, and in New York City it was illegal for two men to dance together, for a bar to serve openly gay customers or for a woman to dress as a man. When a lesbian in handcuffs was tossed roughly into the waiting police van, onlookers rioted. In the ensuing melee, the police officers barricaded themselves in the bar for safety. Reinforcements arrived and calmed the crowd, but not before four officers were injured. At least 13 members of the crowd were arrested.

The riot wrecked the bar. Gay men and women and their supporters began days of vigils and by the next year held what many consider the first modern gay-rights march, a forerunner to the pride parades that are held each year in cities across the U.S. But with tossed beer bottles and angry men in drag, the riot and the ensuing protests did not draw widespread sympathy from the public. Despite its vaunted place in the hearts of gay-rights advocates, the Stonewall riots remained for most Americans an uncomfortably raucous moment, not often recalled.

(MORE: Obama’s Inaugural Speech Was Bold, but Following Through Won’t Be Easy)

That could well change as a result of Obama’s speech, as the fallout and feedback spread across Facebook and Twitter. By Monday afternoon, the impact of the speech had already begun sinking in along San Francisco’s famously gay-friendly Castro Street. Cashier John Winter says the news made his own marriage somehow more permanent, more real. Winter says he married in 2008, during a several-month window when gay marriage was legal in California. “I’m still looking for it to be recognized at the national level, though,” he says. But he’s more hopeful after hearing Monday’s speech, which had been playing over and over on the television in his shop all day. “It even makes the marriage seem stronger,” he says.

Whether his marriage is indeed strengthened remains to be seen — and in that, Obama has already had his say. The rest is up to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments as soon as March in the two biggest gay-rights cases to reach the court in years. What impact Monday’s speech will have on their decision, and on the presumed swing vote by Anthony M. Kennedy, is unclear.

But it’s worth noting that it took 72 years after Seneca Falls for the 19th Amendment to be ratified. And despite the fast action on the Voting Rights Act, legal fights over black civil rights — from busing and school-assignment plans to affirmative action — continue.

There have been plenty of seminal moments in the legal fight for gay rights in the past few years, from the lower-court gay-marriage victories to the opening of the military to gay soldiers. The Supreme Court decision later this year, no matter who wins, could dominate the gay-rights landscape for years to come. But what Obama did Monday was different. With a handful of words, he welcomed a group of rock-tossing, fed-up gays and lesbians — and drag queens — into the pantheon of American heroes.

Whatever happens to marriage this summer, that’s something that won’t be forgotten.

Lindenberger is a national-legal-affairs contributor to TIME.com and a 2013 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.


Washington Post -The Obama effect: Marriage equality gains ground

The Obama effect: Marriage equality gains ground
By Jonathan Capehart

A new Post-ABC News poll shows more evidence that President Obama’s announcement of support on May 9 for marriage equality may have had the power to change hearts and minds. Opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry hit an all-time low while support is at a high.

Those giving the thumbs-up to gay nups stands at 53 percent. That’s an astounding 17-point turnaround since 2006. The number of those against is now down to 39 percent. A more startling datum shows support among African Americans spiking to 59 percent. The Post notes that this is up 18 points from polls taken before Obama’s announcement. This result comes after The Post poll last week showed that 54 percent of blacks supported the president on his completed “evolution.” Sure, the sample size of black voters in both polls was small, but that level of support is still noteworthy.

Of course, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is apoplectic over the rapid change of American public opinion. It’s especially perturbed by what appears to be a shift in black views.
Frank Schubert, NOM’s political director had this to say to The Post: “There is not a chance in God’s green earth that African Americans support same-sex marriage.” If my own born-again Christian mother is any indicator, Schubert doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Besides, Schubert’s views on blacks and marriage equality are not to be trusted. Remember, NOM is the same organization that was revealed to have a secret divide-and-conquer strategy that involved pitting white gays against black Democrats. Part of the plan was to “[f]ind, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.” It went on to say, “No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party.”

But that’s exactly what Obama did. He’s doing just fine. And support for same-sex couples and their families most likely is up today because of what he did.

Huffington Post – President Obama Supports Marriage Equality.

WASHINGTON — In a nod to a dramatic shift in public opinion, Barack Obama on Wednesday became the first sitting president to announce his support for same-sex marriage.

In a sit-down interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, Obama completed what has been a markedly long and oft-mocked evolution on the matter.

“I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly,” Obama told Roberts, in an interview that will air in full on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday.

(Watch ABC’s entire clip below)

“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” he said.

The statement constitutes an act of political bravery on the president’s behalf, as well as a major victory for the gay rights community, which has been pushing him to declare his support for marriage equality for several years. With the issue back in the news this week, the pressure intensified.

On Sunday, Vice President Joseph Biden told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that he was personally comfortable with same-sex marriage, which was followed the next day by Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying the same.

The White House insisted that there was no daylight between the vice president’s position and the president’s, noting that Biden clarified his statement as being in reference to civil rights for gay couples. But the explanation was largely dismissed by both supporters and critics as a convenient way for the president to signal support for marriage equality without having to declare it himself.

On Tuesday evening, the state of North Carolina passed an amendment that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The president expressed his disappointment with the measure, but it remained difficult to square his opposition to a measure outlawing same-sex marriage with his opposition to same-sex marriage itself.

As the political pressure continued to mount, the president finally chose to speak out Wednesday, with the White House hastily scheduling a sit-down interview.

“It’s interesting, some of this is also generational,” the president said. “You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same sex equality or, you know, believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it. You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

The president’s support of same-sex marriage will have little political impact, from a practical standpoint, as much of the activity on the issue is currently occurring in the states and the courts. Already the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has stopped defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. Legislation to overturn DOMA outright would likely be blocked by congressional Republicans.

The more promising path for same-sex marriage advocates remains a friendly hearing by the United States Supreme Court.

Still, the symbolism of Obama’s remarks is hard to ignore. In becoming the first president to publicly support marriage equality, he sets the bar for its political acceptance. He also has the ability to shape public opinion further on the matter.

Of course, there may be drawbacks to such a strong expression of support. While recent polls show that popular support for marriage equality is gaining widespread acceptance, some pivotal swing states remain largely opposed to the concept. And one of them, North Carolina, remains a major target for the president’s reelection campaign.

“The question is, is there a risk?” a prominent Democratic Party official who requested anonymity told The Huffington Post after Biden’s remarks. “It is not nationwide [polling] we are talking about. We are talking about Virginia, North Carolina and other swing states. And we are talking about, would Karl Rove and his team stoop to using horribly grotesque and hateful tactics … and would that peel off 10,000 votes?”

As of Wednesday, that question was hypothetical. Now, it’s a critical component of the 2012 election.