Obama situates gay rights among other great american civil rights movements, commits to equality

By Laurel Schwartz ’15Politics Columnist

The theme of the Jan. 21 inaugural celebrations for President Obama’s second term in office could not have been more clear: civil rights.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the first African American president committed in his address to a progressive agenda in order to bring to the forefront of discussion—and action—issues that were left largely untouched in his first term in office. These issues include climate change, gun control, equal pay for women and—most notably—gay rights.

For the first time in history, a president has openly endorsed gay rights and same-sex marriage in an inaugural address, saying, “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.” He went on to refer to rights of same sex couples within the context of The Stonewall Riots, Seneca Falls and Selma, aligning the struggle for gay rights with the other great civil rights movements of America History.

In doing so, Obama put gay rights on the agenda. Just a year ago he was still “evolving” on the question of marriage equality, but now he has clearly committed to equality under the law for all people.

Obama’s assertion of equality could have a strong impact on legal action in the coming months. Support from the Obama administration could drastically affect the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding a case involving Proposition 8—the ballot measure that limited marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Gay rights lawyers have asked the court to declare the proposition unconstitutional, which could strike down the laws in 41 states.

Obama asserted, “It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began,” suggesting that he will argue before the Supreme Court that gay marriage is an equal right under the constitution. Historically, however, it took 72 years after Seneca Falls for the Nineteenth Amendment to be ratified. Let’s hope that legal action regarding gay rights does not follow suit.