As an LGBT rights advocate, I have experienced so many proud moments with our president. Our community in the United States can count a number of major achievements during President Obama’s tenure: an inclusive hate crimes law; the repeal of the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; and the hugely important decision that the attorney general will longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
So when the rumors started buzzing Wednesday morning that Obama was about to announce his support for marriage equality, it was yet another exciting moment of tangible progress in our country and by our president. When I watched the ABC interview, I was most struck by the weight he gave to his conversations around the dinner table with his daughters, who themselves have friends with lesbian and gay parents. Obama acknowledged that his daughters’ perspectives have helped him evolve: “It wouldn’t even dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently.”
Clearly the political calculation for the Obama campaign suggests that they will not be winning the votes of those most vehemently against marriage rights for LGBT Americans, but that they do value the next generation for whom this is truly a non-issue. Likewise, Obama isn’t going to change the minds of people around the world who hold regressive perspectives, but it might give advocates some hope about their own next generation.
Even as a candidate back in 2008, then-Senator Obama stated publicly that LGBT issues had to be “part and parcel” of US human rights policy. Obama’s first visible action in support of LGBT equality in the first few months of his presidency was to reverse the Bush-era decision to withhold support of LGBT rights at the United Nations, signing the United States on to a groundbreaking UN statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. Later, the president himself stood up at the National Prayer Breakfast in front of a room full of evangelical Christians and called the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill“odious.”
He personally issued a statement of support when the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission became a recognized NGO at the United Nations. And five months ago, he issued a Presidential Memorandum instructing all federal agencies dealing with foreign affairs— from the State Department to the Department of Defense — to consider issues of sexual orientation and gender identity in their programs in order to protect the human rights of LGBT people. These are truly sea change moments for America. Never in our history have we had a president (or a secretary of state as we have in Hillary Clinton) who so passionately, unequivocally and personally supports LGBT equality — the ramifications of which are felt in LGBT communities across the globe.
With all progress towards LGBT equality, there comes some backlash.
Undoubtedly there will be leaders around the world who will use Obama’s support for marriage equality as one more justification for rejecting the influence of “Western” style democracy. But just as his daughters influenced him, there is also no doubt that the visibility of courageous LGBT people and families all around the world will slowly change the way we are treated everywhere — whether its winning marriage rights or decriminalizing homosexuality. The “next generation” will look different from culture to culture, but with the visibility of our diverse families and of proud LGBT people, we will win over more and more allies who accept and embrace us as full and equal citizens.
Thank you, Sasha and Malia Obama. And thank you to the new generations everywhere.
Julie Dorf is senior advisor for the Council for Global Equality. She was the founder of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission and is on the board of Freedom to Marry. She and her wife Jenni Olson raise two daughters.