June 16, 2009
Obama's major speech on LGBT rights
Posted by: Andoni
Before you get too excited, this hasn't happened yet. When I was sitting on the island of Symi, Greece I was getting despondent over the inaction in Congress on LGBT rights. Remembering the president's promises during the campaign, I thought the answer was a major address to the nation by President Obama on LGBT rights -- to jump start things in Congress.
The president has a great way of explaining issues. Just think of his speech in Philadelphia on race and the one in Cairo on Muslim relations with America. When people listen to his well reasoned speeches, a lot more people nod their heads in agreement after the speech. Do I think LGBT rights warrants a major address by the president? Yes, I do. It is the civil rights issue of our time and should be one of the major issues of this presidency.
I began writing a post suggesting a major speech by Obama on LGBT rights sometime in the early fall, but couldn't quite get the words right on paper. Juan and Ken Ahonen-Jover, however, have done me one better. They wrote the speech the president should give. Juan and Ken are the founders of EqualityGiving an organization of major LGBT donors and activists. The link to the speech is here. And at the risk of eating up too much server space (sorry, Chirs), I copy it in its entirety below.
This is the LGBT speech Obama should give. The bold print are his actual words from this year's Pride proclamation.
"Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall
Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too
common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in
America was born.
"LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country's response to the HIV pandemic.
"I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration.
"The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. In the last four decades legislation has been enacted in many states to ensure that we hold our most dear American Promise: that we are all equal under the law. However, no state provides full legal equality to guarantee that each person is treated equally independently of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
"Other states fall far behind in what most Americans believe to be fair and just.
"Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation in the four decades since Stonewall to ensure that Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are treated equally under the law. So, millions of Americans remain denied this American Promise.
"In these same four decades, Congress has passed two pieces of legislation that do the exact opposite and that actually openly discriminate against those Americans. As I said in my campaign, I support repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell legislation, as well as the repeal of the entire Defense of Marriage Act.
"I am here to tell you that yes, we can end discrimination. And that yes, the time for this is now.
"Many will argue that while equality is a worthwhile goal, civil rights have been given incrementally. They will also tell you that we have other important priorities.
"But I ask: Where is our moral compass when we knowingly continue to allow members of our society to be unequal under the law? Where is our moral compass when we have laws that openly discriminate against some members of our society?
"How do you tell a parent that the daughters and sons they love so much will not be treated equally under the law? That one will be able to serve his country, while the other will be fired for doing the same thing? That one will be able to marry and raise a family with all the protection that the law affords, and the other will not?
"We may not agree with every person. But we have to respect them. And the law has to apply equally to every person in the same way.
"Many of the problems that we face require solutions that are complex. Many of these problems have different solutions, which some uncertainty about which solution might be best.
"For instance, Congress already analyzed and enacted legislation on one of our most important and difficult problems: the economic crisis. Work is underway now on healthcare reform.
"But inequality under the law is not a difficult problem to fix. We just have to ensure that all citizens are covered by our existing laws in the same way. No more and no less. We also need to repeal two laws which fly in the face of equal protection under the law: the Defense of Marriage Act, which not only acts against the rights of the States, but also religions, and the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy that acts against the national security of our nation because it deprives our armed forces of personnel we need.
"There is never an ideal time to enact legislation for equal rights. Yet every moment that passes, and we don't act, injustice continues. There are always reasons to delay. But ensuring that we live to our highest promise of equality needs to happen now. It is our moral imperative, since delays just end up denying the rights and protections to those who do not deserve to be left out.
"First, I want to commend the House of Representatives for approving the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. As a senator, I was a co-sponsor of this legislation, and I am asking the Senate to act swiftly to approve it.
"Some say that a crime is a crime and there is no need to distinguish crimes motivated by prejudice against a minority. The reality is that our judicial system considers, as it should, the intention of the criminal. The punishment is not the same, and it should not be, if somebody kills a person by accident versus somebody killing a person with predetermination.
"Hate has no place in our society. Respect for each individual is the glue that keep us together.
"Today, we already have hate crimes laws for those who are victims of crimes based on their race, color, religion and national origin. It is important to add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to those laws." Rest assured that adding this language to our existing laws in no way gives special rights to homosexuals, since hate crimes against someone for being a heterosexual would be also included in this law.
"Most Americans are very familiar with several pieces of civil rights legislation that protect Americans against discrimination. Most people naturally assume that those protections also cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
"They do not.
"The first legislation covering LGBT individuals was introduced 35 years ago. I am asking Congress today to introduce an expansion of the civil rights legislation to cover non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodation, public facilities, credit, and federally funded programs and activities."
DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL
"My most important responsibility as President is to protect our country. Because our national security is at stake, we cannot continue to fire personnel from the military, just because of their sexual orientation. All of our dedicated service members are vital to our national security, and we have spent large sums of money and time training them.
"Since the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has been in effect, more than 12,000 service members have been discharged to the detriment to our national security, just for who they are, and not because of their actions or performance.
"I am thinking of service members like Sergeant Eric Alva, a marine, who was awarded a purple heart and was the first American soldier wounded in Iraq. He was discharged for being gay; and Lieutenant Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate and an Arab linguist, also discharged just for being gay.
"Therefore, today I am signing an executive order asking for a temporary suspension of investigations and discharges of service members because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Of course, behavioral problems will continue to be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.
"I am also asking Congress to pass without delay the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009.
"Effectiveness and cohesion of our military forces is based on trust. Each service member needs to trust each other with their own lives. Critical to this trust is integrity and the ability of our service members not to have to hide who they are and whom they love.
"As when the military was integrated with female service members, we know that our troops are professional and capable of interacting appropriately. We know that our allies, such as Great Britain, Israel, Canada, and Australia have successfully integrated gays and lesbians into their militaries. I believe that our armed services personnel are capable of acting professionally.
"I have also asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to modify regulations within the next 60 days to ensure that all service members are treated equally and that inappropriate behavior is punished whether it is between a members of the same gender or of different genders.
"Our country is very divided on the issue of same gender marriage. I have expressed my own opinion on the subject before.
"Yes, marriage has a religious component.
"Some religions do allow same gender couples to marry, others don't. It is not the role of the government to interfere with religion or favor one religion over another. For example, most religions do not allow divorce. However, led by Ronald Reagan while he was Governor of California, no fault divorce has been adopted by all states.
"Let me say this, in no uncertain terms, to all Americans: the government does not currently, and will not, tell your church whom they can or cannot marry.
"In addition, the rights of the States need to be protected: civil marriage licenses have been and should continue to be the prerogatives of each state. When the Defense of Marriage Act was approved by Congress in 1996, no state allowed same gender couples to marry. Today, six States do, while several others allow either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Other states have their own Defense of Marriage Acts or constitutional bans against same gender marriage.
"The principle at stake is that the federal government does not, and will not, issue marriage licenses. However, the federal government needs to honor all the licenses issued by the States, not just those of opposite gender couples. Therefore, I am asking Congress to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act without delay and to ensure that all the 1,138 federal benefits, such as social security, immigration, and hospital visitation, that apply to opposite gender married couples are applied without discrimination to all couples legally married or otherwise joined by a civil union or domestic partnership legally recognized by a State.
"Today I am proud to say that I signed an executive order providing domestic partners of federal employees many of the benefits of married spouses."
"One of my main priorities is education. This is a requisite for our country to be competitive in the 21st Century. Our hearts were broken when in the space of two weeks in April, two young people committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied because of a perception that they were gay. One was a middle schooler. The other was in elementary school. Our thoughts and prayers go to their families.
"I want to send a clear message to all children: in America you can be free to express who you are. Bullying should not be part of our vocabulary. Every child should grow up in a society that respects their differences.
"Youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment. One of the critical components of learning is to have a safe environment for children to develop to their full potential. This means, among other measures, schools free of drugs and free of bullying. Bullies target other children based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and others. I am asking Congress to immediately pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2009, which has bipartisan support.
THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW
"These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Some people will argue that we cannot do so much, so fast, while the country is dealing with an economic crises, is engaged in two wars, desperately needs healthcare reform, needs education reform, and needs to address the problems with the environment.
"I say: we cannot afford to NOT take care now of these blights on our American Family to ensure that we live to our highest value: That we were all created Equal.
"The time has come to live to our highest aspirations. To send the message that while we may not agree with each other all the time, we all share the aspiration of living in a society in which none of our members faces discrimination. And a reminder that we were all created equal.
"I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.
"Because if some of us are not equal, none of us are equal."
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