From our perspective: A possible champion for equality

President Obama gave a rallying cry for progress in his inaugural address on Monday, Jan. 21.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said.

Obama is already famous as the first president to support gay rights as well as the force behind the military’s repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The inaugural address may have been the most straight-forward he has ever been on the issue of LGBT equality.

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President Obama is setting a lot of first’s by becoming President. Image from Creative Commons.

There’s no doubt the speech was well-planned and laden with symbolism. Speaking on Martin Luther King day was an obvious reference to the step toward racial equality made by Obama’s first election in 2008, and his language seemed reminiscent of that used in America’s famous founding documents.

“We, the people, declare the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still,” he said. ” He also referenced the Stonewall riots (often considered the origin of the gay rights movement) and other landmark civil rights battles.

In addition to trumpeting gay rights and racial harmony, Obama acknowledged America’s religious diversity, including what may have been the first-ever reference to non-religious Americans in an inaugural address.

“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers,” he said.

But while the rhetoric is inspiring, and while President Obama’s support of marriage equality is an encouragement to those who have long awaited such acknowledgment, so far his support remains largely in the realm of symbolism.

It’s a powerful symbol to be sure. That our nation has gone from denying gay rights exist to having their legitimacy proclaimed by our Commander-in-Chief is nothing to scoff at. But it doesn’t make gay marriage any more legal, nor does it do anything to outlaw discrimination based on sexuality. We can only hope the president will put his money where his mouth is and use the power of his second term to initiate concrete, positive changes for those he so eloquently termed “our gay brothers and sisters.”

The issue of LGBT rights and marriage equality has been a prominent one over the past year, and the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue legal action on the matter by June 2013. Whether the president will actively take up the cause over these next few months or whether his promise of equality for all will fall by the wayside as a forgotten rhetorical footnote remains to be seen.