LGBT Americans have had no greater ally in recent history than President Obama. Since taking office, Barack Obama has systematically advocated for the rights of gays and lesbians; arguably far more than any one group or demographic.
As his first term as president comes to a close and the battle for re-election begins, Obama has come out to reveal himself as the most successful champion for LGBT rights. Some say this is because gay rights have been long overdue. Nonetheless, we cannot deny that this president’s monumental mandate to make gay rights the cornerstone of his domestic agenda, provides both high risks and high rewards as he battles to win re-election in 2012.
At the start of his presidency in January of 2009, Barack Obama began with modest steps on behalf of gay Americans. Using his executive order privileges, he by-passed the Congress and expanded the equal rights and benefits for LGBT federal employees. LGBT civil rights advocates criticized him for not going far enough in addressing benefits to the greater population, due in part that the order remains overshadowed by the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.
Further criticism coming from the president’s base revealed the frustration with Obama’s refusal to use executive order privileges to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Contrary to their remarks, the remainder of Obama’s first term in office would prove that the president was just warming up his civil rights agenda.
In mid March of 2010, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a law 11 years overdue for many victims of hate crimes across the country. Before signing the bill into law the president stated “[a]fter more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are. I promised Judy Shepard, when she saw me in the Oval Office, that this day would come.” President Obama would later end 2010 with an even bigger victory for equality and justice.
By far, the president’s second greatest domestic policy success during his first term has been the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, coming only behind the Affordable Care Act. As Commander in Chief, the decision to repeal the 1990’s Clinton-era compromise with conservatives was a difficult balancing act between civil rights and national security. Remarking at the end of the 60-day waiting period for the official repeal of DADT, Obama stated it was “another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals.” He went on to say that “Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform.” As the saying goes, “good policy is good politics” and the repeal of DADT has without a doubt energized and motivated a liberal base that had gone into hibernation in the wake of the GOP 2010 midterm elections.
At the end of May of 2011, President Obama went on to issue a Pride Month Proclamation, in recognition and celebration of gay Americans past and present, stating that “the story of America’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is the story of our fathers and sons, our mothers and daughters, and our friends and neighbors who continue the task of making our country a more perfect union.”
President Obama has also come out swinging in advocating and addressing the civil rights of gays and lesbians in the arena of foreign policy and international relations. Earlier this month, Obama approved to grant foreign aid to countries that protect LGBT Rights. He directed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give what has been seen as historic address to the international community. Secretary Clinton addressed to the nations of world in Geneva, where she gave her LGBT Rights Speech, stating among other things that gay rights are human rights, and that people are not inherently guilty of a crime based on their sexual orientation.
The risk in scale and scope of repealing DADT, signing hate crimes legislation, and advocating for other equal rights not traditionally applied to LGBT Americans can be seen in the decline of religious and social conservative independent voters that voted for Barack Obama over John McCain 51 to 43 percent. Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry is aware of Obama’s extensive LGBT record and is using it as a wedge to tap into both conservatives and social moderates. In a recent campaign ad airing in Iowa, Governor Perry makes the case that Obama’s LGBT policies are an attack on American values and religious heritage. Perry is currently trailing in the lower tier of the GOP primary, and many see this ad as a desperate attempt to win over Iowa evangelicals. Nonetheless, it appears that this ad will foreshadow the presidential debates to come in 2012 between President Obama and the GOP nominee.
It was president Bill Clinton who was famously labeled “America’s first Black President” by Nobel prize winning author Toni Morrison for growing up in a “single-parent household” and being a “born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”
Recently, President Barack Obama has endorsed a bill designed to repeal of Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law banning on same-sex marriage. The president has repeatedly stated on the record that he is struggling and evolving with the idea of same-sex marriage. This move by Obama might signal an evolution in support of marriage equality for all Americans. It’s a monumental move for the already enormously successful advocate of LGBT rights in recent history, Barack Obama, America’s first gay president.