U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called on LGBT lawyers Thursday night to draw on their “considerable passion and expertise” to build on the progress the Obama administration has already made on advancing LGBT rights.
During his keynote speech at the LGBT Bar Association’s annual Lavender Law Conference, Holder said those in attendance are or will be “uniquely situated to use the power of the law” to create a more equal society.
“And you have not only the power, but – I believe – the solemn responsibility, to do precisely that: to safeguard the rights and freedoms of everyone in this country, and to carry on the critical but unfinished work that lies ahead,” Holder said.
Holder added as he looked around the room that he “can’t help but feel optimistic” about where the efforts of attendees will take the country in the months and years ahead.
The attorney general delivered the remarks before an estimated 1,000 people at the dinner, which took place during the three-day conference at the Washington Hilton in D.C. Attendees discussed the conference as they dined on steak and salmon dinners prepared by the hotel’s kitchen.
During his speech, the attorney general ticked off numerous accomplishments of the Obama administration on LGBT issues, including repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the discontinuation of defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and working with school districts to investigate and address bullying. Additionally, Holder said the Justice Department continues to “fight for” passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination and an updated Violence Against Women Act with LGBT protections.
Holder cited a Connecticut district court’s recent ruling against Section 3 of DOMA as part of the fallout of the Justice Department’s decision to no longer defend the anti-gay law — noting the judge shared the Obama administration’s belief that laws related to sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, or the assumption they’re unconstitutional.
“Since then, we’ve seen an encouraging – and increasing – number of courts hold this provision to be unconstitutional, including a federal district court in Connecticut that found that Section 3 fails to survive heightened constitutional scrutiny just last month,” Holder said.
Holder was well received by the audience, which gave him a standing ovation both upon his entrance to the stage and his exit.
Jonah Richmond, a gay 25-year-old student at Vermont Law School, said seeing Holder’s speech was the “opportunity of a lifetime” because of the historic nature of the times on LGBT rights.
Richmond added he was stricken by Holder’s commitment to not defend DOMA and the attorney general’s willingness to cite his LGBT attorneys in the Justice Department to show “he’s very comfortable working with them.”
Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, was in attendance during the speech and expressed a similar satisfaction with the attorney’s general remarks.
“I thought the attorney general’s speech was fantastic,” Ralls said. “He did a great job of highlighting the work the administration has done on behalf of the community and highlighting that there’s work left to be done.”
After if anything was absent from the speech that he wished he heard, Ralls replied, “Immigration Equality has a number of outstanding asks to the attorney general and other Cabinet agencies. We remain optimistic that the record of this administration will continue in the direction of progress. We hope by the this time next year, we’ll hear about all the great couples that are getting green cards.”
Among the outstanding requests Immigration Equality has for the administration is placing the marriage-based green card applications for bi-national same-sex couples in abeyance so they can remain together in the United States without fear of deportation.