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January 25, 2013

‘Seneca, and Selma, and Stonewall’

Obama is first president to cite LGBT equality in inaugural address

Washington, D.C.--LGBT clergy, poets and marching bands were all part of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, but the most important part of the celebration for LGBT Americans was the president’s January 21 inaugural address, which may go down as an historic watershed moment in gay civil rights.

Drawing a line in history between the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights gathering in the Western Hemisphere, the Selma civil rights marches and the Stonewall riots that kicked off the modern LGBT rights movement, Obama became the first president to call for equal rights for LGBT people in an inaugural address.

“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.

“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,” he continued. “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.”

The inaugural call for full equality came less than nine months after Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, an issue on which he had “evolved” over the course of his political career, earlier espousing support for civil unions but not full marriage equality.

It was also less than three months after three states passed same-sex marriage laws, and a fourth shot down a proposed anti-marriage amendment. The support of Obama and the NAACP were credited for the passage of Maryland’s equal marriage law at the ballot box.

While the address was history-making, it was not the only sign at the inaugural festivities that the political status quo for the LGBT community is changing drastically.

During the parade, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association had a contingent marching, as they did in Obama’s first inaugural. Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, who is gay, gave inaugural poem.

Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the LGBT denomination Metropolitan Community Church, was included in the January 22 Interfaith Prayer Service at the National Cathedral. The inclusion was welcome, especially after the exit of Rev. Louie Giglio, who was originally selected to give the benediction at the inauguration. Giglio quickly withdrew after criticism emerged over an anti-gay sermon he gave in the 1990s. Giglio has also promoted the power of prayer as a way out of same-sex attraction.

“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 form 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 Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “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.”

“We were honored that the president included Stonewall among the historic events in American history that have made our union stronger,” he continued. “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.”

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