Swept under the rug no longer

Obama did not have to mention gay people in his first speech as president-elect. This gay person, for one, would have given him a pass, and I’m sure pundits from Andrew Sullivan to Perez Hilton would have followed suit. But he did mention us.

By Matt Zakosek

[img id=”76986″ align=”alignleft”] “It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled, and not disabled,” President-elect Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech Tuesday night.

Thank you, Senator Obama.

Obama did not have to mention gay people in his first speech as president-elect. This gay person, for one, would have given him a pass, and I’m sure pundits from Andrew Sullivan to Perez Hilton would have followed suit. But he did mention us.

I returned from Grant Park to an e-mail from the Human Rights Campaign congratulating the senator on his win. It did not specifically mention his use of the “gay–straight” dichotomy. But that’s what stuck in my mind, even more than the amazing story of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper.

Obama has been a true ally of the gay community, standing by our side in places like Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. “If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community,” he told the crowd on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. “We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them.”

If there was ever a convenient time to disregard our issues, it was then, when the historical significance of Obama’s campaign was more than enough to commemorate the occasion. Just showing up would have been enough. But Obama championed our cause then, just as he did in Tuesday night’s speech.

Vice president–elect Joe Biden stands by us as well. In the vice-presidential debate, Sarah Palin was unable to name one concrete example of how she would protect homosexual relationships under the law, patronizingly invoking the same tired “some of my best friends…” argument. Senator Biden announced, “Look, in an Obama–Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.”

Things could be a little better. Obama and Biden both blanch at affixing the word “married” to a homosexual couple—and yes, nomenclature matters. “Civil unions” clearly mark us as different (and therefore inferior). No honest assessment of this distinction can fail to place it under the category of “separate but equal.” Calling all government-sanctioned bonds “civil unions” and giving the word “marriage” to the churches is a cop-out. But there will be time to work this out, and our side will prevail. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Meanwhile, you can bet that the next administration will see the overturning of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And according to Free Republic’s J. Michael Sharman, Obama wrote early this year, “I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does.” The constitutional lawyer is right. “I have also called for us to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I have worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system.”

“Sen. Obama’s repeal of DOMA would strip away the states’ ability to choose whether or not to recognize same-sex marriage ceremonies held in another state,” Sharman whines—as if injustice anywhere is not the same as injustice everywhere. “And his last suggestion would grant even a temporary resident in the U.S. the ability to bring in their homosexual partner under the ‘Family Unity Program.’” Between those quotation marks lies the insulting implication that gay people cannot form “real” families.

It’s very possible that John McCain’s federalist argument is a cover for a fundamental discomfort with gay marriage. It’s absurd to change the legal definition of a family just because they cross state lines (not to mention the logistical nightmare). I’m not a single-issue voter, but I do hold this issue above any other. And when the Log Cabin Republicans cite the lack of hate speech at the Republican National Convention as a sign of progress, it’s clear that the party of Lincoln truly has lost its spirit of fairness.

The election of the most gay-friendly candidate in our country’s history was tempered by ballot measures around the country. Marriage equality took a blow in California, Florida, and in John McCain’s Arizona. The passing of California’s Proposition 8 is especially gut-wrenching because the polls were so close and the stakes are so high.

But Obama mentioned us in his first speech as President-elect, and his track record proves that it was more than empty rhetoric.

Matt Zakosek graduated from the College in 2006 with a degree in Cinema and Media Studies.