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Queer Talk: Obama Says ‘Gay’ in Inaugural Speech, WH ‘Tamps Down Expectations’ the Next Day

It isn’t just the LGBT realm which has enthusiastically pointed to Obama’s inclusion of “Stonewall” and “our gay brothers and sisters” in his Inaugural speech on Monday. I wrote about the importance of, along with a need for context and caution, his mention of Seneca, Selma and Stonewall in that speech. Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney provided some of that “context and caution.” Or maybe it’s just simple political pragmatism. Or simply, Obama being Obama.

First, here are the words from the speech, one more time, which have created so much admiration, excitement, hope, and in some cases and from my perspective, adulation.

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 … .

… 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.

Tuesday we heard from Carney, and thus Obama. Zeke Miller reports, at Buzzfeed:

White House: Obama Still Thinks Gay Marriage Is A State Issue

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeated Tuesday that while President Barack Obama is personally supportive of civil gay marriages, he doesn’t believe it should be a federal issue.

How can it not be a federal issue, with DOMA in place?

A day after the president uttered his strongest words yet on the rights of gay Americans to marry, the White House is trying to tamp down any expectations that he will push for more action to make his vision a reality. …

‘The president’s position on this has been clear in terms of his personal views,’ Carney said. ‘He believes that individuals who love each other should not be barred from marriage. And he talked about this not in a religious sense, but civil marriage. And that continues to inform his beliefs. We have taken positions on various efforts to restrict the rights of Americans, which he generally thinks is a bad idea. And you know his position on section 3 of DOMA.’

The Defense of Marriage Act, Section 3, means the federal government cannot recognize marriage of same-sex couples for purposes of Social Security, insurance benefits, immigration, etc.

Carney emphasized that Obama “believes … deeply” in the “principle” that “LGBT Americans” should not be discriminated against. But …

Carney refused to take a position on the California gay marriage ban (Proposition 8) currently being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Carney rejected analysis of Obama’s speech as particularly liberal, saying, ‘It was forceful and it was confident…I would reject that idea that this was an —ism speech, it was the opposite of that.’

And by the way, it wasn’t only LGBT issues which seemed to receive a “tamping down,” as Miller characterized it.

… Carney tried to pour cold water on any grand moves to attack climate change, even though it was a substantial portion of the president’s address.

Whether Tuesday’s press release from HRC was planned before Carey’s remarks, or a response to them, it’s to the point. From HRC President Chad Griffin:

‘In his inaugural address yesterday, President Barack Obama called for the equal protection of our nation’s laws for gays and lesbians families. Now, as the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark marriage equality case on this same question, it seems only logical for the White House to take yet another important step toward fulfilling that promise of equality by filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

A few examples of what’s been written, noting that these came before Carney’s press conference.

From The Advocate, Matthew Breen’s, “Editor’s Letter: The Emergence of a Fierce Advocate”:

It’s the morning after President Obama’s second inauguration, and I’m still buzzing. History was made over and over throughout the ceremony, with unparalleled examples of calls for the legal and social recognition of the human rights of LGBTs.

At America Blog Gay, John Aravosis, “A magical inaugural for the gays,” who emphasizes the significance of Obama’s “affirming” that “gay rights are civil rights.” Lisa Keen, via The Dallas Voice, quoting, among others, Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, who also focused on the significance of LGBT rights as civil rights, as does Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin.

For more, also see Zack Ford at Think Progress, “How Obama Made His Second Inaugural Address A Landmark Moment For LGBT Equality,” and Kevin Robillard, at Politico, “First inaugural use of the word ‘gay.’”

I’ll repeat myself yet again, simply because this point is fundamental to my understanding: Obama, like millions of other people, “evolved” on LGBT “issues” because LGBT advocates and our allies did the work to make it happen, at grassroots, local, state and federal levels. Political pragmatism says that Obama is the first U.S. president who could — in an inaugural address — have said “gay” and “Stonewall,” or explicitly link LGBT equality with civil rights. He didn’t have to, and so the fact that he did is significant.

If Obama acts, if he leads, in even half the “now I’m free to be who I really am and it’s a progressive Democrat” interpretation, I might actually be ecstatic. Had he said, “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender,” I’d be more impressed and encouraged now. No, I’m not expecting, much less demanding, “perfection.” I’ve just heard too many speeches that never get past the “sounds good” stage. And no question, what Obama said sounded good. The words will mean something if he acts accordingly.

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2 Responses to Queer Talk: Obama Says ‘Gay’ in Inaugural Speech, WH ‘Tamps Down Expectations’ the Next Day

  1. Taylor Marsh January 23, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Like it or not, this is a tiered issue. I’ve never thought people understand this.

    Mainstream politicians don’t all acknowledge LGBT, even if they talk about gays and lesbians and their families.

    We’re a long way from LGBT embrace in our establishment politics, but also the public at large.

    • Joyce Arnold January 23, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

      Yep. And LGBTQ advocates (among others) know it. I’d guess that even many of those who were most enthusiastically cheering the inclusion in the speech aren’t really that surprised.

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