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Date published: 1/22/2013
Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON--By equating the gay rights struggle with those of African-Americans and women, President Barack Obama in his inaugural address set a standard that thrilled gay activists and boosted their hopes that he soon will make a bold legal move to support a constitutional right to gay marriage.
Obama's words, themselves, were a landmark--the first time gay rights had ever been advocated in the high-profile speech. But the president, speaking just feet from Supreme Court justices who will take up the issue of gay marriage this spring, went far beyond a simple mention. He equated gay rights with the country's iconic civil rights movements.
"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," he said, linking the first women's suffrage convention, the battle for black rights in the South and the gay protest against police harassment in New York--as equal steps in history's march toward equality.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," he continued, "for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
The passage was "was definitely one of those moments that took your breath away," said Adam DeRosa, president of the Lesbian & Gay Band Association, whose 215 members later marched past the president in the inaugural parade. "We understand the historical significance of it. What political significance it has, remains to be seen."
Obama, who only last spring hesitated to declare his public support for gay marriage, soon will have to decide whether his administration will take the potentially huge step of arguing before the Supreme Court that gay marriage is an equal right under the Constitution.
The court will soon review two cases, one of them involving California's Proposition 8, the ballot measure that limited marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Gay rights lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to declare the ballot measure unconstitutional. If the administration were to side with them, it would be asking the court to strike down the laws of 41 states that do not allow same-sex marriage.