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The President's Gay Rights Speech

by Professor Will Huhn on October 12, 2009

in Civil Rights,Wilson Huhn

     On Saturday evening President Obama delivered a major address on gay rights.  The principal points he made are set forth below.

     President Obama spoke before the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, on Saturday evening.  Here is a link to the text of the speech.  The principal points that he made are summarized below.

1.  He expects that Congress will soon approve the Matthew Shephard hate crimes bill, which he will sign into law.  This law will make it a federal criminal offense to assault someone because of the sexual orientation of the victim.

2.  He promised to obtain the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, stating, "I will end Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  The repeal of this law would allow gays and lesbians who are married or who otherwise choose to disclose their sexual orientation to serve in the military.

3.  He has called on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and to enact the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act.  The Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, including those that have been performed in states where such marriages are legally valid.  This means gay and lesbian federal employees who have entered into same-sex marriages which are recognized as valid under state law are nevertheless denied employment benefits which are extended to the spouses of federal employees in heterosexual marriages.  Similarly, the present law prevents gay and lesbian married couples from filing joint returns under the federal income tax or from qualifying as "surviving spouses" under Social Security.  All of these distinctions would be wiped away if the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed.  In addition, the Defense of Marriage Act expressly authorizes the States to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other States.  The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, by itself, would not force the States to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere – the courts would still have to decide whether the States have the power to refuse to do this under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution.

4.  The President stated that he supports the passage of a comprehensive bill that will prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  It is significant that he supports the broader version of this bill that would protect bisexuals and transgender persons as well as gays and lesbians from acts of discrimination. 

     What I found most significant in the President's speech was his repeated message that this is not simply a legal matter, but a moral one – that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation must be addressed not only in the legislatures and the courts, but our homes and communities.  Two passages in particular struck this theme.  The President said:

If we are honest with ourselves we'll admit that there are too many who do not yet know in their lives or feel in their hearts the urgency of this struggle. That's why I continue to speak about the importance of equality for LGBT families — and not just in front of gay audiences. That's why Michelle and I have invited LGBT families to the White House to participate in events like the Easter Egg Roll — because we want to send a message. And that's why it's so important that you continue to speak out, that you continue to set an example, that you continue to pressure leaders — including me — and to make the case all across America.

     And in closing, the President stated:

Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let's say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he's held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.

I believe the future is bright for that young person. For while there will be setbacks and bumps along the road, the truth is that our common ideals are a force far stronger than any division that some might sow. These ideals, when voiced by generations of citizens, are what made it possible for me to stand here today. These ideals are what made it possible for the people in this room to live freely and openly when for most of history that would have been inconceivable. That's the promise of America, HRC. That's the promise we're called to fulfill. Day by day, law by law, changing mind by mind, that is the promise we are fulfilling.


{ 1 comment }

Ilse M. Pagoada February 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

The President's Gay Rights Speech was very well written and said out loud. It's hard to believe that at this day and age we are still struggling for our rights and freedom to be who we are simply human beings that LOVE one another. He could not have put it in any better words than he did alas I hear something different and much well deserved for us to be backed up by the President of the United States of America. Land of the Free but we are not all Free until we are all set free from being ourselves instead of hiding and living in fear of expressing who we are as couples, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons, and daughters. LGBT is composed of all these let us keep this fight alive till we succeed and hopefully the PEOPLE will open up their eyes and realize that the word FREEDOM entails more than what we have gotten so far, it's FREEDOM within ourselves and the People to be a REAL AMERICAN.

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