In 1979, I left my footprints on the National Mall during the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and listened to speakers from Troy Perry to Allen Ginsberg make the case our civil rights. It gave me hope. How could the President and Congress ignore the hundred thousand plus men and women who marched to the capitol to demand equality?
But President Carter did ignore us, and so did Congress. In fact we have been pretty much ignored in the oval office until now. In his second inaugural speech, President Obama not only acknowledged our struggle, he linked it to the great civil rights struggles of the past. In one sentence he cut through the years of neglect and put our fight in perspective.
“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.”
In case the listener was not a student of history and didn’t recognize those three watershed events in the struggle for equality President Obama reiterated the point.
“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.”
Finally, a president “gets it”! The women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement and LGBT rights are part of the same struggle. It is acknowledgement that we as LGBT Americans are no longer set apart, we do not seek “ special rights” any more than every other American.
His nod to same-sex marriage will no doubt have weight in the upcoming Supreme Court cases that contest the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. The court will no doubt take into account the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and the endorsement of the President. They do not act in a vacuum.
Apparently the President does not act in a vacuum either. I know that like many folks in the LGBT community, I had been disappointed that President Obama had not pushed harder for LGBT rights. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but still was impatient for more action. Most people recall the kerfuffle of having homophobic preacher, Rick Warren at the first inauguration. Many will also recall that candidate Obama openly affirmed that marriage was “between a man and a woman” and he was against “gay marriage”.
Things change. In May of last year he stat4ed in an interview on ABC, “…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."
And now, in the inaugural address, he makes it abundantly clear that equality will be a big part of his second term in office.
It is heartening to see that those footsteps of LGBT people who marched on the National Mall in 1979, 1987, 2000 and in 2009 have not been blown away by the political winds that scour Washington . President Obama, by acknowledging those “footprints along this great Mall” not only gives a nod to LGBT rights, he gives me hope that I will live to see those rights become the law of the land.