President Obama: making news and making history

Yesterday’s announcement by President Obama that he personally believes that same sex couples have a legal right to get married was a watershed moment. It will go down as one of the great days in civil rights history.  As Rachel Maddow said last night, policy-wise, the Obama administration’s legacy on the issue of gay rights was already solid.

The administration’s accomplishments include not only repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but as The Maddow Blog lists, the administration has also

…expanded federal benefits for the same-sex partners of executive-branch employees, signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, cleared the way for hospital-visitation rights for same-sex couples, lifted the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS, ordered the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans, expanded the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship, and directed U.S. agencies abroad to ensure our humanitarian and diplomatic efforts “promote and protect” the rights of gays and lesbians.

President Obama letting Americans know his personal beliefs on the issue of marriage equality was simply icing on the proverbial cake for Rachel Maddow.  Because of the administration’s policy actions, she said, in affirming his personal support,

He added icing to that. The cake was already baked.  The legacy was already secure by his actions as President.  By what his administration had done.  The legacy was already secure before he took this extra step today.  This was something extra.  This is something not necessary to secure his legacy here.  This is above and beyond.  And it is not without risk. And now having said these words publicly that no president has ever said before, now we get to see how this changes the country. 

As progressives, it’s sometimes hard to imagine thoughtful opposition to marriage equality whether it’s based in religion or something else.  I’m sure many of you can relate to debating socially conservative family members until you are blue in the face.  Those debates are important.  President Obama said yesterday that conversations with friends and family members played a role in his decision making process, his “evolution,” toward his belief in equal rights for gay couples.  That is significant because it means that we shouldn’t shun those who have a different view, even if it disgusts us in every way. Because some of those people can still be swayed.  Some of those people are still worth swaying.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is likely not among those who can be swayed, as he is not only opposed to marriage equality, but to civil unions for same sex couples, too.  And so the contrast for this election is now even more clear.  Whether you question the timing of the announcement or not, the choice is between the President, who is on the side of equality, and Romney, who is not.

President Obama’s announcement is a big f%&king deal, as Vice President Joe Biden would say.  Does that mean that we all get to break out the champagne and celebrate our awesomeness and equality for everyone? No.  But that is always the case.  That famous Martin Luther King, Jr. quote calls the arc of the moral universe “long” because one victory is not the end of the game.  The fight for civil rights didn’t end with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, or the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As Rachel Maddow said, Obama’s policies reflect support for equal rights for all, and now he’s said that he supports equal rights for all.  It’s our job as citizens who support this view to register to vote, to volunteer, to organize, and to vote in elections to ensure that progress continues on all levels of government.

This is significant. It is a milestone. Yesterday, Barack Obama made news, and he made history. And I am proud of the President for standing up for what is right and just – but the fight for equality continues on. As it always must.

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