NEW YORK (AP) — President Barack Obama‘s emphatic gay-rights advocacy in his inaugural address thrilled many activists. Yet almost immediately came the questions and exhortations as to what steps should be taken next.
“I was very moved,” said Jon Davidson, legal director of the gay-rights group Lambda Legal. “But there’s a lot more to do in the four years to come. … It’s not like everything is fine.”
Items on the activists’ wish list include appointment of America’s first openly gay Cabinet member, steps to curtail unequal treatment of same-sex couples in the military and an executive order barring federal contractors from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The paramount priority for many, however, is same-sex marriage. Never before Monday had an inaugural address conveyed support for marriage equality, and activists now hope the Obama administration will take concrete steps to follow up, including escalated engagement in pending Supreme Court cases.
“Why wouldn’t they decide to stand on the right side of history?” Davidson asked.
Obama broached the broader issues in his speech by classifying the Stonewall gay-rights riots of 1969 as a civil rights milestone on par with those in the struggles on behalf of blacks and women.
Then, alluding to marriage, he said, “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.”
Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights, termed the address “perhaps the most important gay-rights speech in American history.”
Among Obama’s in-person audience were the Supreme Court justices who will be hearing oral arguments in March on two same-sex marriage cases. They will be considering both California’s constitutional ban on gay marriage and provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages, which are now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia.
The Obama administration already has said those DOMA provisions are unconstitutional and is no longer defending them, leaving that task to a legal team hired by Republicans in the House.
Gay-rights activists say the Justice Department could take further steps in that case, notably by filing papers with the high court aimed at placing an even higher burden on DOMA’s defenders to justify the government’s unequal treatment of same-sex couples.
Activists also hope the administration will file a friend-of-the-court brief in the California case, joining with those who argue that the 2008 Proposition 8 ballot measure banning gay marriage in the state violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection.