When Americans go to the polls on November 6 to vote for the next President, they’ll have a voluminous list of candidates to choose from in different states. However, the majority will most likely be choosing between two leading candidates: incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama and his anti-gay Republican challenger Mitt Romney. And while there are several key issues – including the economy, jobs, reducing the federal budget deficit, and healthcare – that all voters will have on their minds when casting their ballots, GLBT Americans will also be concerned with getting a candidate into office who will work to establish equal rights for them.
For most of us, the clear choice is Barack Obama. He is a man of integrity. Obama has said and done more for LGBT’s in his first four years in office than any other U.S. President ever has. His Presidency is replete with equal-rights breakthroughs of unprecedented proportions, and each one of them has been more of a cause for celebration than the last.
President Obama’s first year in office, 2009, was a time of immense pressure coming at him from every direction. Still, he was managing to put into effect many of his campaign promises. Although many gay activists lamented the slow pace at which President Obama was addressing LGBT topics, amid everything else he had on his plate he was gradually implementing equal rights measures for us. On June 17, 2009, he mandated that the federal government extend benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. On June 29, he hosted the first LGBT Pride reception to ever take place in the White House. On August 12, lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and the late Harvey Milk were among the 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom honor. October saw a one-two punch when, on October 21, Obama created a national resource center for LGBT seniors; just seven days later, he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
Whereas Obama got off to a promising but relatively slow start on behalf of gay equality in his first year in office, he hit his stride in 2010 with a whopping 11 acts. He rang in the New Year by banning gender identity-based discrimination in federal workplaces. While that first act of 2010 was certainly another positive step forward, it really wasn’t anything that affected the majority of LGBT Americans. They were still hungry for the real change that they’d believed would come from the inspiring and intelligent new President.
Some of that change finally started unfolding on April 15 when Obama enacted hospital visitation and medical decision rights for gay and lesbian patients. This was a particularly important move because not only did it ensure basic equality for all hospitalized gay patients and their partners, it was his first major recognition of gay families. Among Obama’s other major measures in 2010: ensuring family leave for LGBT employees in the Family and Medical Leave Act; filming a video for the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign; and supporting a United Nations measure that added sexual orientation to the definition of human rights.
But the President saved his greatest act for last in 2010 when he signed the repeal of the 18-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on December 22. Although it would be September 20, 2011 before the repeal was actually implemented, the actual signing was the best early Christmas present gay and lesbian military service members could have received.
A tide was turning in President Obama’s loyalty to the LGBT voters who supported him throughout his campaign, and with each new LGBT-focused presidential act in 2011, a foundation was seemingly being laid for what a majority of gay and lesbians citizens most wanted to see happen: same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional. The President endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act, which sought to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Once the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was officially implemented in September, permission was granted to military chaplains to perform same-sex marriages in states where it was legal to do so. Obama called for equality for aspiring same-sex adoptive parents in his November 1 proclamation of National Adoption Month.
Clearly, a momentum was building with each landmark proclamation or act, and yet LGBT Americans were becoming impatient for something bigger and monumental to happen. Again, the thing that was foremost on everyone’s minds was same-sex marriage. They wanted their President to offer something earth-shattering in the battle between staunch “traditional marriage” advocates and same-sex families. That impatience was squelched when in May of this year President Obama and Vice-President Biden announced their support of same-sex marriage. When the words finally came, many of us could scarcely believe what we’d heard – it was so surreal and unexpected: Barack Obama became the first sitting United States President to voice his support for same-sex marriage.
Although the elation at Obama and Biden’s announcement is absolutely warranted, what most people must be careful to keep in mind is that it’s only an endorsement – albeit one that certainly carries a lot of clout. Same-sex marriage is already legal in the District of Columbia and a handful of states including Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. There’s certainly still a lot of work to be done in making it a reality in every state, but indeed it must be decided on the state level because President Obama and the federal government can’t force same-sex marriage into being. And, we can’t pressure Obama to do it; we have to understand that even a President has his limitations in an issue like this. We already have the gift of his endorsement to give weight to our cause.
President Obama has already done tremendous things for LGBT Americans in his first term in office, so much so that he may have actually reached the peak of what he can do. At this point, as we look hopefully and gaily forward to the election next month, rather than pressure the Prez, we can only continue to keep ourselves, our lives, our families, our causes, and our quest for ultimate equality so visible that he won’t ever want to stop fighting for us.