Editor's Letter: President Obama Changed Our Lives and Our Politics

Those who were once silently complicit in our oppression are now forced to voice their bigotry or change their minds, says The Advocate's editor in chief, Matthew Breen.



Pictured: The August cover included an endorsement of President Obama for reelection.

But the big news this year, for me, was the president’s endorsement of marriage equality, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Prior to that, Obama’s administration had done more for LGBT rights than any of its predecessors. I know you’re familiar with many of these advancements, but they bear repeating to our colleagues, our families and friends, and our neighbors.

He signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act and lifted the ban on HIV-positive green card applicants and visitors to the U.S. He signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the first pro-LGBT federal law in U.S. history.

After just two years into office, he had appointed more LGBTs to head commissions and agencies, to ambassadorships, and to senior staff positions than any president, surpassing the entire two-term record of Bill Clinton. He has quadrupled the number of openly gay judges on the federal bench.
 He signed the United Nations Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, a declaration George W. Bush refused to sign.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s moving and historic speech to an international audience of the U.N.’s human rights group in Geneva last December, observing the anniversary of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, made the Obama administration’s perspective very clear, that LGBT rights are human rights.

Obama’s State Department has issued diplomatic passports and provided other benefits to the same-sex partners of foreign service employees.

The Obama administration launched a national resource center for LGBT elders. He ensured that insurance exchanges cannot deny coverage to someone LGBT under the Affordable Care Act. And the administration eliminated discriminatory Census Bureau policies so our relationships are counted; he directed hospitals receiving federal funds (nearly all hospitals) to allow partner visitation rights; and convened a first-ever summit aimed at combating bullying in schools.

By this time you may be detecting a bias. I’ll admit, I wrote The Advocate’s first endorsement of a presidential candidate in our publication’s history.

And the reason was the president’s statement of May 9, unequivocally in favor of marriage equality. By saying aloud, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” in a televised interview on ABC, he has sparked conversation domestically and internationally. While he is our president at home, globally he’s an icon, a symbol of the promise of America, of the promise of equality. By virtue of his unique position, his endorsement of marriage equality is not merely rhetoric. His words constitute action. His statement is enormous and has the power to move millions in a way that a statement from no other person could have. Obama is not a far-left leader. His policies are moderate and only appear particularly progressive in contrast with the policies of his predecessor, policies that pandered to the worst instincts of ultraconservatives. (Those instincts were evidenced by 13 state constitutional amendments banning marriage equality in 2004.)

In this statement, and in the proliferation of understanding of our issues, I see a future trajectory for LGBT rights in our politics.

I believe we will never again see a Democratic presidential nominee emerge from the primary system with an anti-equality stance. That position would appear too backward to have legitimacy in the 21st century. Any candidate of either party who rejects the full equality of LGBTs will be asked to account for his or her view that we are damaged or inferior, and to explain why rights should be afforded to some but not all American citizens.

Granted, I’m not a prognosticator, but I did predict when I was writing that endorsement this summer that marriage equality would be included in the platform at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. That historic inclusion seemed inevitable to me, and it feels like an additional step toward enshrining LGBT equality as a core Democratic principle.

Any Democratic candidate or elected official who opposes marriage equality will henceforth be in direct opposition with the view of the leader of the free world on a civil rights issue, and that will make stumping for inequality an increasingly uncomfortable task. And no longer will fringe bigots, in elected office or on conservative talk radio or television, be able to cite the president’s former stance opposing marriage equality as a tool to suppress or to harm LGBTs.


MATTHEW BREEN is editor in chief of The Advocate. He shared these thoughts with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in October in Texas.

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