Last year, he called for repeal of the federal law barring openly gay people from serving. This year, just a month after having signed a bill to repeal that law, the president urged universities which have barred military recruiters over the gay ban now allow recruiters back on campus.
“Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”
That drew applause.
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“And with that change,” continued Obama, “I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”
That drew a brief standing ovation.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese welcomed President Obama’s words concerning the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but added that “there remain a number of pressing issues for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community when it comes to economic security.”
“The President and Congress can do much more to ensure the economic empowerment of LGBT people including ending the unfair taxation of partner health benefits, prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and ensuring that all married couples have access to the same federal benefits and protections for their families,” said Solmonese, in a statement released before the president delivered his address to Congress. “We look forward to working with this President and allies in Congress on the challenges ahead.”
But Robin McGehee, director of the activist group GetEQUAL, expressed disappointment.
“Tonight, President Obama missed an opportunity to lay out an agenda and strategy that continues progress made toward LGBT equality — removing the burden of being second-class citizens and acknowledging our families,” said McGehee, in a statement.
“Sadly, while national hero Daniel Hernandez sat with the First Lady to witness this historic speech, he did not have the luxury of sitting there as an equal — for that, our elected officials should be ashamed. It is time for the President to put the power of the White House behind the passage of legislation that would give the right of full federal equality to LGBT Americans,” McGehee said. “As a community, it is our promise and our obligation to continue the work of holding both the President and Congress accountable for the inalienable human rights, dignities, and freedoms we all deserve.”
He did not, as some LGBT activists had urged, set a new goal for Congress — repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
President Obama did include an openly gay man as one of his special guests in the House visitors’ gallery Tuesday night.
The man was Daniel Hernandez Jr., who was singled out by many news accounts as one of the heroes to take action during the January 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. Hernandez, who was serving as an intern in Giffords’ Tucson office, rushed to her side and provided first aid that many have said saved the Congresswoman’s life.
A number of Twitter messages from various people noted that Tuesday was also Hernandez’s 21st birthday. One Twitter message was from the account of Rep. Giffords, saying: “From the entire Giffords team: Happy 21st Birthday Daniel Hernandez! Sounds like you have fun plans tonight :)”
CNN indicated it was the first Twitter message from Rep. Giffords’ account since she was critically injured in a shooting January 8. Giffords is still recovering from her wounds and is at a rehabilitation hospital in Texas.
Cameras scanning the gallery showed Hernandez early during the broadcast of the State of the Union. But Hernandez appeared to be standing near the back of the gallery, not seated near First Lady Michelle Obama, as expected.
In response to concerns about the hostile political environment, many members of Congress eschewed the usual seating arrangement of Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other, and sat together.
Three of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices chose not to take seats at all and did not attend the State of the Union address. They were the three most conservative — Justices Antonin Scalia, Sam Alito, and Clarence Thomas.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) delivered the Republican Party’s “Response to the State of the Union.” He limited his remarks to economic issues.
In case you missed it, you can watch the full State of the Union address here: