WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama made history yet again by becoming the first American leader to mention the words gay and Stonewall in an inauguration speech.
“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; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said during his inauguration speech.
“It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for,and cherished, and always safe from harm,” Obama continued.
“That is our generation's task -- to make these words, these rights, these values -- of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time -- but it does require us to act in our time,” the president said.
“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and 40 years, and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”
Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, praised Obama for reaffirming his commitment to marriage equality.
"In his second inaugural today, President Obama traced the moral arc from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, and rightly exalted the struggle for the freedom to marry as part of America's moral commitment to equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Wolfson said.
“Freedom to Marry applauds our president and the moral leadership he has shown, the moral leadership we will continue to need until all Americans, all loving couples, all families, can share fully in the American promise we celebrate on Inauguration Day," he said.
The inauguration itself reflected Obama’s inclusiveness:
• The official poet, Richard Blanco, is an openly gay Cuban-American;
• The Rev. Luis Leon, who gave the benediction, presides over an LGBT-friendly Episcopal Church, St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C.
• The Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, read Scripture during the interfaith breakfast.
Kevin Cathcart, executive director for Lambda Legal, said he sees hope and challenge in Obama's second term.
"For those of us who have been working many years for justice for LGBT people and people living with HIV across the country, there is more hope as well as more determination in the air today. We congratulate President Obama, and the country, on the President's inauguration and the start of his second term. Voters re-elected a president who embraced marriage for same-sex couples, led the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and is standing with us to defeat the so-called Defense of Marriage Act," Cathcart said.
"It is an inspiring moment in history for all of us to witness the swearing in of an African-American president on Martin Luther King Jr. Day - a reminder that change is possible, but comes only from courage, leadership and tenacious struggle. Inspiration must turn to action, and action to results. We look forward to working with President Obama early in this term to enact the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, as well for elimination of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and enactment of federal protections for LGBT students," he said.
"We have a lot of work to do, and much to celebrate as we look forward to many more victories in 2013 for LGBT people and people living with HIV."
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also applauded the historical nature of Obama's speech.
“President Barack Obama made history today by connecting the lives of committed and loving lesbian and gay couples fighting for marriage equality to this nation's proud tradition of equal rights for all. Moments after swearing to uphold the Constitution for all Americans on Bibles owned by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama declared passionately that our national journey towards a more perfect union cannot be finished until equal protection under the law extends to each and every American regardless of who they are or whom they love," Griffin said.
“By lifting up the lives of LGBT families for the very first time in an inaugural address, President Obama sent a clear message to LGBT young people from the Gulf Coast to the Rocky Mountains that this country's leaders will fight for them until equality is the law of the land. As the merits of marriage equality come up for debate from state houses to the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a broad majority of Americans are standing up for liberty and fairness, the President's unequivocal support for equality is a clarion call that all Americans should receive with celebration," he said.
“We were honored that the President included Stonewall among the historic events in American history that have made our union stronger. Its inclusion is testament to the valiant contributions of LGBT Americans past and present who seek nothing more than to be treated equally by the country they love.”
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.