NEW YORK CITY – Let me begin by saying I take full credit for Evan. (Laughter.)
Evan, you’ve done an incredible job. You really have. And not only your passion, but your incredible intellect and your tactical and strategic capability. This has been — it’s wonderful to show up at a place that’s happy to be going out of business.
I’m here with Valerie Jarrett. Valerie? I don’t know where Valerie (is) who is a great, great friend. And my old buddy Kasim — Kasim Reed. Are you here, Mr. Mayor? Well, I’ll tell you what he is a standup guy. And I’m delighted he’s here as he led mayors along with my adopted mayor in Philadelphia and others to stand up when — before it became — now it’s popular for everybody to stand up, which is a good thing. It’s a good thing.
But again I say I’ve never been so happy to be with an outfit that’s going out of business. In fact, I was so confident, Evan, that you were going to be going out of business that I actually rescued one of your former employees, Kirsten Lance, who now works for me because I was worried. I knew she wouldn’t have a job very much longer. (Laughter.) And she’s with me tonight, too. I hope she reacquaints herself with a lot of her old friends.
I just want you to know that I really do think that it is an incredible job that you’ve all done. Even when Evan was my intern back then, Evan did a great job.
This has been a heroic battle, but it has been based on a very simple proposition best expressed at least to me by my dad when I was a 17-year-old kid. My dad was one of those — as the Irish say, the highest compliment you give someone is, “He was a good man.” My dad was a good and decent man.
And I was — I learned early on I didn’t like digging ditches in the summer with construction crews so I became a lifeguard. But they paid a lot more money. I was in a county system, in a county pool. And they paid more money in the city. And so my dad on the way to his job in the morning, and this — if you know anything about — you probably don’t — my city of Wilmington, there’s a place called Rodney Square. And the buildings surrounding Rodney Square were the DuPont Company; the Hercules Corporation, which was big then; and ICI Americas, and so there were a lot of plain grey suits. And an awful lot of — at 8 in the morning, an awful lot of men and women hustling off to work.
But the courthouse is in that square. And my dad pulled up to let me run out and get an application for this job in the city, and then I was going to drive him to work and drive myself home.
And as we were stopped at the light, two men on the right — very well-dressed men, obviously, business people working for either Hercules or DuPont — turned and embraced one another and kissed each other. And they went their separate ways.
I’ll never forget. I turned and looked at my dad, just looked at him. And I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “Joey, they love each other. It’s simple. They love each other. It’s simple.”
That’s what this has been all about from the beginning. It’s never been that complicated for me because of the parents who raised me. That’s why I didn’t have any problem — I had some political problems — but I didn’t have any problem. And I didn’t have any problem with the President directly and honestly answering that question on “Meet the Press” that you showed.
Now, here — I don’t say that for a reason. Because look, I got involved in public life because of civil rights. This is the civil rights movement of our generation. This is what — this decision is as consequential as Brown vs. the Board.
And it’s always been — the reason I’ve been so confident, it’s always been a simple proposition. But it hasn’t been simple for a lot of you, especially those of you who are older. Pursuing this simple proposition for many of you standing in front of me took courage. It took moral courage, but it took physical courage — physical courage.
As you came out and stood up and made your case, unlike me, you risked a great deal. I risked nothing holding this position I’ve had for so many years.
In 1983, there was a Harvard Law essay making the constitutional case for marriage equality written by a young man, who wrote, and I want to quote. He said, “Human rights illuminate and radiate from the Constitution, shedding light on the central human values of freedom and equality.”
That was the basis upon which I took on Judge Bork. No, no, let me explain because this is an important proposition. Judge Bork and many conservatives, justices, and he was a brilliant man and a brilliant judge and a brilliant professor. But he believed there was no such thing as any un-enumerated right in the Constitution. Unless it was stated in the Constitution, it did not exist as a constitutionally protected right.
And I remember the opening exchange he and I had. I hadn’t thought about it till I saw your comments. We started the debate in the opening round, and I said, Judge Bork, I’m going to characterize your position on constitutional interpretation and you tell me if I’m wrong.
And I said, “You believe all the rights I have as an American, a human being emanate from the Constitution. And if they are not stated, I do not possess that right.”
And he said, “That’s right.”
And I said, “Well, I believe I have certain inalienable rights merely because I’m a child of God — just because I exist. The government has given me nothing. Given me nothing. They’ve just guaranteed to protect what I’m guaranteed as a human being to have. All human rights, all human rights illuminate and radiate from the Constitution.”
That’s what this is all about.
These were not words from an illustrious Supreme Court Chief Justice. These are the words of your institution’s founder. These are the words written by Evan Wolfson when he was in law school. Pretty courageous for a 26-year-old kid at Harvard Law School when the future looked so dark and lonely.
It took courage like many of you have demonstrated. And like him so many of you have done so much for so long. The last five or six years where I go within the community I’m being thanked, you don’t owe me or Valerie or the President or anybody any thanks. No, no, no, you don’t. We owe you.
It’s hard for me to imagine the sense of accomplishment you must feel. Over the years in their homes, on our staffs, in the front lines of war, in houses of worship, Jill and I have known, stood with, supported countless gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender Americans who share a love for their partners that up until now was constrained only by social stigma and discriminatory laws.
But the work all of you have done, laying the groundwork for the Supreme Court decision — their love, your love — it has been set free. It has been set free like it never has before in America. In fact, because of you — and I mean this sincerely — in my view if you check the history of the Supreme Court, the country has always been ahead of the Court — always been ahead of the Court in every major reaffirmation or assertion of a basic human right.
In my view the Court’s decision was inevitable because of you. The Court had no choice in my view based on an accurate reading of the Constitution, but it also had no choice because the social mores of the country support the position you’ve taken.
I’ll say it again, in the process of this long struggle that began before my father uttered those words to me — “they love each other” — there was a heavy cost, a heavy price paid by so many who went before. I want you younger people here to understand the shoulders you’re standing on.
Your courageous efforts not only set you free and the LGBT community free, but it freed millions and millions of straight women and men. It freed them in a way — most people, it’s human nature, they don’t want to speak out against social convention. So many remain silent for fear of being ostracized. You set them free from the stigma that they feared, that they bear supporting the rights of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues, roommates, neighbors.
As Valerie and others can tell you — and I think Evan can tell you — I believed from the beginning not only did the social disapprobation of society keep so many in the LGBT community from coming forward, it also intimated millions of straight people who didn’t have a homophobic bone in their body. But now they’re free, as well. They didn’t have the courage you have. But they are free, as well.
And by the way, those discussions with your straight friends, those discussions — ask them, they feel liberated and they no longer feel guilty.
Twenty years ago at a business lunch in this city if a gay waiter came up with a lisp and said, “What will you have,” and one of the people at the luncheon said, “Well, let me tell you what I’ll have,” no one would have said anything. Today that man or woman would not be invited back to lunch. It’s a big deal.
As I said back in May of 2012, I believe a majority of the American people agreed with me and agreed with you years before this decision was made. But now it’s settled. It’s settled in law.
But as you know better than anything, although this is a gigantic step toward equality, there are still many more steps that we have to take and so much more to do.
You’re probably saying, “Why did Biden talk so much about where the American public is?” Because of the next issue I want to mention with you, and I’ll only keep you a couple more minutes.
Although the freedom to marry — and for that marriage to be recognized in all 50 states — is now the law of the land, there are still 32 states where marriage can be recognized in the morning and you can be fired in the afternoon.
Just as the courage of gay and lesbian, transgender, bisexual women and men to stand up long ago and say, this is who I am, is what made ordinary Americans realize there’s nothing abnormal about this — these are people I know, people I love, people I care about — I believe right now — I don’t believe the American people, for that matter the people in those states — I don’t believe they even know it’s possible that you can be fired because you are gay or lesbian. And I am absolutely confident that when the people and organizations in this room, and the President and I take this fight to the American people, we will win because all we have to do — all we have to do is let them know what the law allows now.
If you think I’m kidding, go to any one of those states when you’re on business. Ask at a train station or at an airport or when you’re having lunch, “Can someone here in this city be fired just because they’re gay?” I lay you eight to five you’ll get an answer, “No, that can’t happen.” They don’t even know.
But once people realize this will end, as well. So we have to raise the issue up. We have to expose the darkness to justice. As the great Justice Brandeis once said, disinfectant — the best disinfectant is sunlight.
So I want you to know this next door is going to be a hell of a lot easier to push open as long as we expose to average Americans the injustice that continues to exist. So let’s all recommit to shine a blazing light on the ugliness of employment discrimination. (Applause.) It matters not just for the millions of American families.
Along with marriage equality, it matters that we use the power of our example to force — as a force for global human rights, to be a champion of LGBT rights around the world. This is also has a significant foreign policy dimension. Finally, finally. No, no, finally our actions are matching our stated values.
So, ladies and gentlemen, the next fight will not take as long. And let me close with this story. I took my — three of my grandchildren to the World Cup, the Women’s World Cup Finals in Vancouver.
And afterwards we had the privilege and honor of walking out on the field with our team and meeting all the women on the team. We observed two remarkable things. One was the incredible athletic prowess our or women’s national team that won their third national — world title.
But two, and equally as consequential, we watched maybe the greatest women’s soccer player of all times, Abby Wambach standing there with flag in one hand, and her arm around her wife, giving her a kiss in the other hand. That was reason to celebrate. It was just as normal as countless other times you’ve seen that happen. Harvey Milk was right, hope is never silent.
So I say in America, justice can never be permanently repressed. It always needs and will be set free. Congratulations. Now, shine a new light.
NEW YORK CITY – Let me begin by saying I take full credit for Evan. (Laughter.)