Evoking Stonewall, Obama Talks of Gay Equality in Inaugural Address

President Barack Obama takes the oath of office on Sunday, January 20 from Chief Justice John Roberts. | LAWRENCE JACKSON/ WHITE HOUSE

President Barack Obama takes the oath of office on Sunday, January 20 from Chief Justice John Roberts, one day in advance of the ceremonial festivities outside the Capitol. | LAWRENCE JACKSON/ THE WHITE HOUSE

For the first time in a presidential inaugural address, Barack Obama, in beginning his second term in office, talked specifically about the LGBT community.

And in a speech that clocked in at just under 20 minutes, the mention was more than merely incidental.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” the president said, tying the historic 1969 uprising against police harassment in the West Village to iconic moments in the women’s and African-American civil rights struggles.

And just two sentences later, Obama added, “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.”

That declaration of equality under the law came less than nine months after the president voiced support for the right of same-sex couples to marry in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts.

A week and a half ago, the president’s inaugural plans hit a gay rights speed bump when ThinkProgress.org reported that the Reverend Louie Giglio, chosen to offer the benediction, had given a stridently anti-gay speech in the mid-1990s, in which he asserted, “Homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle… homosexuality is not just a sexual preference, homosexuality is not gay, but homosexuality is sin.” Giglio said Christians “must lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” that aims to bring the nation “to the point where the homosexual lifestyle becomes accepted as a norm in our society.”

The Reverend Dr. Nancy Wilson.

The Reverend Dr. Nancy Wilson.

On January 10, one day after the Giglio story surfaced and created a firestorm of criticism, the Atlanta-based minister and founder of the Passion Conferences aimed at college students, withdrew from the Capitol swearing-in ceremony.

Several hours before Obama took the oath of office, the Presidential Inauguration Committee announced that the Reverend Dr. Nancy Wilson, the international leader of the Metropolitan Community Churches, the LGBT denomination founded 45 years ago, will read a passage from Scripture at the January 22 Interfaith Prayer Service at the National Cathedral.

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco.

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco.

And Richard Blanco, a 44-year-old Spanish-born son of Cuban exile parents, became the first out gay inaugural poet, delivering an original work, “One Day.” In a poem that evoked the celebration of America's multitudes coming together in daily life Whitman wrote about 150 years ago, Blanco, who won the 1997 Agnes Lunch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press for his first book of work, “City of a Hundred Fires,” wrote, in part, “All of us as vital as the one light we move through, the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, the 'I have a dream' we keep dreaming, or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever.”