In case you missed it, President Obama addressed the Human Rights Campaign (the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization) this past weekend in Washington D.C. and announced publicly for the first time that he has added gay rights initiatives to his “near-term” agenda. The issue of gay rights is an area where Obama has been criticized since taking office, by not coming out in strong support of many of the issues that face the LGBT community. He is however, only the second president (besides former President Bill Clinton) to address this community openly and directly.
Obama has a lot of work to do to support gay rights during his presidency. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (signed by Bill Clinton in 1996) remains a formidable obstacle to equal rights for gay couples. Obama highlighted his commitment to repeal the act and promised to afford all rights to two men and two women in committed relationships that married couples have now. Additionally, the military policy of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” has most certainly run out its course of usefulness and must be eradicated. Obama did promise to sign into law the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, among many other promises (which would repeal “Don't Ask, Don't Tell”).
On one hand this feels like a historic moment, with a promise for a call to action for many of the key issues that are being discussed. President Obama is saying the right things. On the other hand, it’s taken Obama nearly a year to talk about these issues. Critics also say they are concerned with Obama’s unwillingness to present a timetable on many of these objectives. But speaking up for gay rights was and is the right thing for him to do, although in my opinion, he should have done it several months ago. But what bothered me most about Obama’s speech was that in his speech he said everything just shy of "I support gay marriage." Those four words, although small, would speak far beyond their terseness to the gay community and its supporters.
If President Obama can follow through on his promises, it will certainly go a long way toward building the presidency he hopes to pursue. If you want to watch President Obama’s entire speech, you can click here to view it. Following the speech, the Human Rights Campaign’s President, Joe Solmonese, released this statement acknowledging the historical importance of the speech.