Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 15 / 10 April 2014
 
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Gay rights get a
presidential shout-out

NEWS


With first lady Michelle Obama holding the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s and the Lincoln Bibles, President Barack Obama recited the oath of office during Monday's inaugural ceremony.
(Photo: Reuters)
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President Barack Obama, in his second inaugural address, emphasized the nation's principle of equality for all and, in doing so, specifically included the struggles of LGBT Americans, a first for a U.S. president in such a 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," the president said as he stood on the Capitol's west side, looking out over a crowd of several hundred thousand.

"It is now our generation's task to carry on what [our nation's] 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," said Obama.

This generation's task, he said, is to "make these words, these rights, these values – of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – real for every American."

LGBT groups issued statements praising the president for including the gay civil rights struggle in his January 21 remarks.

"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," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, said Obama, by including the gay civil rights movement alongside the movements for the civil rights of blacks and women, "rightly exalted the struggle for the freedom to marry as part of America's moral commitment to equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In his first inaugural address in 2009, Obama emphasized unity, and did not refer to LGBT citizens directly or indirectly. Some last-minute inclusion of gay people in various venues of the inaugural festivities were generally unpublicized and unseen. Instead, the high-profile inclusion of California evangelist Rick Warren shone attention on his support for voter-passed Proposition 8 in California just two months earlier, banning marriage for same-sex couples.

 

Visible inclusion

This time, however, there was positive and visible inclusion of LGBT people throughout the inaugural ceremony.

Delivering the benediction on the inaugural podium Monday, the Reverend Luis Leon, the pastor of an Episcopal church near the White House that the Obama family attends, urged that "prejudice and rancor" not be allowed to rule our hearts but that, instead, all citizens hold each other in "mutual regard" no matter what their race or gender or immigrant status, and whether "gay or straight, rich or poor."

Press reports prior to the inaugural ceremony characterized Leon as a "gay-affirming" clergyman at Saint John's Church, which also celebrates marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. Leon replaced Atlanta pastor Louie Giglio who was initially invited to deliver the benediction but who withdrew from the ceremony after criticism surfaced about anti-gay remarks he made in a sermon in the 1990s. In that sermon, Giglio called homosexuality "probably the greatest addiction" and said that marriage between same-sex partners is "absolutely undermining the whole order of our society."

An openly gay man, Richard Blanco of Bethel, Maine, presented a poem as part of the inaugural ceremony. Drawing from common images of Americans in all walks of life, Blanco's poem spoke of the nation's oneness.

"One sun rose on us today," he noted. "... one light waking up rooftops, under each one a story ... my face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors." He spoke of sights common to all, of the rows of colorful fruits and vegetables at markets, as "rainbows begging our praise." And he spoke of "carrying our lives without prejudice" and "giving thanks for a love that loves you back."

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, delivered the invocation at the inaugural ceremony. She did not mention LGBT people specifically, but repeatedly referred to the importance of diversity in the nation's people and in the principle "everyone is included."

If there was any mar to the historic inauguration day, it was a tiny display of hostile signs along the motorcade route to the U.S. Capitol Monday morning. According to a pool reporter for the White House, a small number of people held up signs saying, "God hates fags" and "God hates Obama." The messages were typical of a Kansas pastor and his followers who have acquired considerable media attention by displaying hate-filled messages at gays during various high-profile events.

During the inaugural parade Monday afternoon, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association appeared in the third of five divisions of parade contingents, each division led by a different branch of the armed services. The Third Division was led by the U.S. Navy. This was the band's second appearance in an inaugural parade. The Civil Rights Float was described by the Presidential Inaugural Committee as featuring "images representing historic struggles of many of the civil rights movements in our country," and included an image of Jeanne Manford, the recently deceased national founder of Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and her late gay son Morty Manford.

Liz Owen, communications director for PFLAG National, said the organization was "thrilled" to have the Manfords included.

 

 






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