Online extra: Obama
touches on LGBT equality
in acceptance speech
by Chuck Colbert
The role of government and that of change are top priorities, come Election Day, for LGBT voters trekking the road to full equality. And President Barack Obama left little doubt on those two scores during his acceptance speech Thursday night in the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"We don't think government can solve all our problems," the president told adoring delegates at the Democratic National Convention. "But we don't think that government is the source of all our problems – any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles."
There is a positive role for government in the lives of all Americans, Obama insisted. Sound government polices affect peoples lives for the better. And change is about the people who make it happen, said Obama.
"So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens – you were the change," the president explained.
"You're the reason there's a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who'll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can't limit her coverage," Obama said. "You did that.
"You're the reason a young man in Colorado who never thought he'd be able to afford his dream of earning a medical degree is about to get that chance. You made that possible," the president said.
Sure enough, Obama highlighted the change he, his administration, and the Democratic Party have now fully embraced – and accomplished.
"You're the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she's ever called home; why selfless soldiers won't be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love; why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely: 'Welcome home,'" said Obama.
The president spoke to marriage equality, which the Democrats have now endorsed in a historic first for a major U.S. political party.
"If you turn away now – if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible ... well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves," the president said.
"Only you can make sure that doesn't happen. Only you have the power to move us forward," Obama added.
Forward indeed. It was only eight years ago that California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) said advocacy of same-sex marriage was "too much, too fast, too soon."
Eight years before that, in 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law.
Now, Feinstein supports marriage equality and is one of the leading senators working to repeal DOMA and under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice is no longer defending DOMA in federal court.
In a historic nationally televised interview in May, Obama himself announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, having fully "evolved," from only backing civil unions.
LGBT delegates – at nearly 8 percent a record high – to the Democratic National Convention could not be happier or energized leaving Charlotte.
"The pursuit of LGBT equality was on full display on the last night of our 2012 Democratic National Convention," said Clark Williams of San Jose, a delegate and co-chair the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party.
"Speaker after speaker pledged their support for the freedom to marry plank in the party platform, praised the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and called for the end of the Defense of Marriage Act," he explained in an email as he was heading back to the Bay Area Friday.
"For LGBT Americans, President Obama's enthralling and electric speech was the last and greatest show of support for LGBT equality," said Williams. "Our president highlighted his efforts to end discrimination in our armed forces and cited the appeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' as one of his proudest legislative accomplishments."
Williams also spoke in personal terms about the effects of a toxic political climate where right-wing religious extremists and similarly predisposed GOP partisans rely on gay equality as a wedge issue to garner votes and win elections.
"President Obama's appeals for a more cooperative and conciliatory political culture in Washington included chastising the GOP for unfairly marginalizing LGBT families," Williams explained.
"For me – a gay man and a father to a 9-year-old little girl – I was humbled and warmed by the president's understanding of how prejudice and scapegoating represents the very worst of America. The president and the first lady are champions of our community and they are committed to furthering the cause of equality for all," said Williams.
"Without question, LGBT Americans have a committed and vigorous ally in the White House," he continued. "As [the president] framed what is at stake in this election, [Obama] made it crystal clear that Americans who believe in moving the nation forward cannot sit this election out."
Accordingly, Williams affirmed a commitment to get out the LGBT vote for Obama.
"As LGBT families will continue to benefit tremendously from this president and his administration, LGBT Americans everywhere must become active participants in the 60 days remaining of this presidential campaign," Williams said. "A Romney-Ryan win would threaten all of our LGBT achievements and dramatically set back the march toward full LGBT equality."
The Republican Party platform, adopted at the GOP convention in Tampa last week, calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, oppose marriage equality.
Other LGBT delegates at the Democratic convention praised party leaders.
"Without question, the 2012 convention demonstrated the Democrats are committed to achieving equality for the LGBT community," said Rebecca Prozan, an out delegate from San Francisco. "Speakers from the heartland, like Congressman Cleaver from Missouri, to the coasts to the South incorporated our community's fight into the conversation. Marriage equality was incorporated into the platform by consent. We cannot allow our rights to be rolled back, we must move forward and do everything we can to elect President Obama this November."
A parade for equality
Over the three-day schedule of events this week as Democrats convened in convention, speaker after speaker in fact spoke out for gay rights, affirming full LGBT equality.
First lady Michelle Obama went so far as to position same-sex marriage as a new slice of all-American apple pie.
"If proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream," she said on Tuesday night during her prime-time, televised speech.
For his part, convention keynoter Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas – the first Latino in such a role – stuck it to the marriage-equality naysaying GOP and its nominee. "When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, 'No,'" Castro exclaimed.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chair, told the delegates, "For the first time, a major party platform recognizes marriage equality as a basic human right."
And a sixth generation Iowan, Zach Wahls, an activist who was raised by two moms, put his same-sex marriage advocacy to the GOP nominee in no uncertain, highly personal terms.
"Governor Romney says he's against same-sex marriage because every child deserves a mother and a father," Wahls told delegates last night.
"I think every child deserves a family as loving and committed as mine. Because the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us; that's what makes a family. Mr. Romney, my family is just as real as yours," Wahls said.
Two nights earlier, an openly gay congressman spoke in equally eloquent terms about his love and life.
"My name is Jared Polis. My great-grandparents were immigrants. I am Jewish. I am gay. I am a father. I am a son. I am an entrepreneur. I am a congressman from Colorado. I am always an optimist. But first and foremost, I am an American."
Continuing, Polis made a pitch for common ground and mutual respect among a diversity of views and personal experiences.
"That is why we must continue bringing America together," he said.
"I don't just ask my fellow Americans to respect my relationship with my partner Marlon and my role as a father to our son. I also ask them to respect the Christian family concerned about decaying moral values and crass commercialism. I ask them to respect the difficult decision of a single mother to bring a child into this world, because of her heartfelt beliefs," said Polis.
There was no red, white, and blue balloon drop – only tri-color confetti – as the curtain came down on the Democratic convention shortly before midnight. Obama's speech had been moved from an outdoor stadium due to weather.
And, just as he prayed over Republicans gathered in Tampa, Florida, a week ago, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan offered a benediction for the Democrats.
There were three main appeals he made – right to life, religious liberty, and an affirmation of traditional marriage.
"We beseech you, almighty God to shed your grace on this noble experiment in ordered liberty, which began with the confident assertion of inalienable rights bestowed upon us by you: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," said Dolan.
"Thus do we praise you for the gift of life. Grant us the courage to defend it, life, without which no other rights are secure. We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected," he added.
"We praise and thank you for granting us the life and the liberty by which we can pursue happiness. Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature's God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community," the cardinal said.
And just as his presence in Tampa raised eyebrows, so his praying in Charlotte prompted sharp reactions from gay Catholics and LGBT activists.
"Cardinal Dolan chose again to characterize same-sex marriage equality, which for the first time was party of the party platform of the Democratic Party, as 'the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own,'" said Charles Martel, president of New England-based Catholics for Marriage Equality.
"Same-sex marriage is not about remaking the institution of marriage, but rather as evidence that same-sex couples also value it, and believe that it does nurture not only themselves, but also the community," Martel explained. "Civil same-sex marriage does not threaten the institution of marriage, but adds to it through loving couples, the kinds of couples Catholic laity know, but apparently the hierarchy have never met."
In offering his assessment, Wayne Besen, founding executive director of Burlington, Vermont-based Truth Wins Out, was more pointed. (TWO is a nonprofit organization fights anti-gay religious extremism and misinformation.)
"Cardinal Dolan unnecessarily and inappropriately politicized his remarks," said Besen. "He appeared more partisan than prayerful and more animated by wedge issues than worship. It was hard to tell whether he was a Republican member of the House of Representatives or a representative from a house of worship."