WASHINGTON — Just months before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider the issue of nationwide marriage equality, President Barack Obama on Tuesday praised the issue as “a story of freedom across our country” and “a civil right.”
In his sixth State of the Union address of his presidency, Obama said that Americans now “value the dignity and worth” of gay citizens, and for the first time recognized lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in a State of the Union address.
“I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home,” said Obama, noting the rise in support for marriage equality.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear cases seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples initially filed in four states: Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Six of the high court’s nine justices were in attendance for the State of the Union, including Chief Justice John Roberts.
Obama, who came out in support of same-sex marriage in May 2012, also compared LGBT rights to the civil rights fight as he did in his second inaugural address when he said it was “our generation’s task” to carry on what was begun by “our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” a reference to the fights for women’s rights, African-American rights and LGBT rights, respectively.
“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained,” said Obama.
“That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.”
That statement marks the the first time a U.S. President has used the words transgender and bisexual in a State of the Union address, in addition to the specific use of the term lesbian rather than the generic gay, noted Slate.
Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California, called Obama’s public recognition of transgender people in his State of the Union address “historic.”
“It is time for the American public to become aware of our stories and struggles both at home and around the globe,” Davis told The Huffington Post.