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By Lisa Keen
President Obama said Friday he thinks the LGBT movement will “keep moving in the right direction, as long as we stay vigilant and keep working on it.”
He made his comment in response to a question from Ingrid Nilsen, one of three popular YouTube “creators” chosen to ask the president questions in conjunction with his State of the Union address Jan. 12.
Nilsen, who came out as a lesbian on her YouTube channel last June, asked President Obama whether it might be possible that some recent progress toward LGBT equality is “not here to stay in certain states.”
Her question was prompted, she noted, by the recent announcement by the Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice that that state’s ban remains in “full force and effect” until the state Supreme Court can weigh in on what effect the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples has on the Alabama ban.
“No, no, no, it’s here to stay,” said President Obama, who was being interviewed in the East Room of the White House Friday afternoon. “Understand that the Supreme Court has ruled that, under the constitution, everybody in all 50 states has the right to marry the person they love. So that’s now the law of the land.
“The fact that an Alabama judge is resisting is just a temporary gesture by a judge which will be rapidly overturned because it violates what’s called the Supremacy Clause,” he said. “When the federal constitution speaks, then everybody has to abide by it and state laws and state judges can’t overturn it. So, you shouldn’t be worried about that. I think that the process of changing people’s attitudes, the process of people treating the LGBT community with full equality and respect, making sure they’re not discriminated on the job or in housing or things like that — those are areas where we’ve still got some significant work to do.
“And, for young people, making sure they’re not bullied — that requires the participation of all of us.” President Obama continued. “So, we’re not there yet. On the other hand, I got to tell you that, to watch the amazing strides we’ve made over the last five years, 10 years, 20 years, and all of this is a result of the incredible courage of people who had the courage to come and say, ‘Here’s who I am,’ but who did it 20, 30 years ago when it was incredibly tough. It was because of their courage and their activism that we’ve seen the changes we’ve made, and I’m confident we’ll keep on making them.
“The thing that makes me most hopeful about this,” he added, “is when I talk to Malia and Sasha and young people of your generation, their attitudes are so different. The notion that you discriminate against someone because of sexual orientation is so out of sync with how most young people think – including young Republicans, young Democrats. I mean, I think it’s across some of the usual political lines. This is an issue that’s going to keep moving in the right direction, as long as we stay vigilant and keep working on it.”
Ironically, this year’s State of the Union address was one of the few in which President Obama did not lay out a specific goal to accomplish for the LGBT community.
In his first official State of the Union address, in 2010, President Obama said he would work with Congress and the military to repeal the ban on openly gay Americans serving. Reaction in the LGBT community was mixed: Some applauded the statement; others said the time for promises was over and that the president should create a plan to make it happen.
By December that year, Congress agreed to a plan that the policy would end as soon as the president, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified that repeal would not jeopardize military readiness. They so certified and the policy was repealed in September 2011.
In January 2011, President Obama disappointed many LGBT activists when he did not call for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Instead, he called on college campuses to “open their doors to our military recruiters.” President Obama’s 2012 address made passing mention of “gay or straight” members of the military. In 2013, the president again talked about members of the military “gay and straight” and made a pitch for ensuring that all people can “get ahead no matter where you come from, what you look like or who you love.”
In June of that year, with the support of the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. President Obama got a little more specific in January 2014, when he spoke about “marriage equality” and the “inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.” In a separate “supplemental” statement to the State of the Union, President Obama stated that, “It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to (the) list” of types of discrimination prohibited by federal law. And he explicitly endorsed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which sought to provide job security for LGBT people.
Of course, in June 2015, with the full support of the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans to marriage for same-sex couples in every state. During last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama talked about LGBT people in the context of preserving American values and respecting human dignity.
“That’s why we defend free speech and advocate for political prisoners and condemn the persecution of women or religious minorities or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” said the president. “We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do but because, ultimately, they will make us safer.”
Human Rights Campaign spokesman Stephen Peters said the president’s explicit mention of transgender people last year was historic. Peters said HRC hoped the president this year would address the community’s remaining challenges, including the “need to pass the Equality Act for full federal LGBT equality, HIV/AIDS funding, the current Department of Defense review of the outdated regulations preventing transgender service members from serving authentically, and a host of other areas.”