During his Sunday commencement address at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke out against the passage of an anti-gay marriage amendment a week ago in the state.
The mayor, who made his fortune in information technology, talked about careers and campus rituals before he pivoted to a section about the history of civil rights progress early in his speech. He told over 5,500 graduates that they were free to pursue their dreams “more than any other generation that has walked the Earth.”
“That has been the story of America, stretching back to our earliest days,” he said. “At our nation’s founding, African-Americans were held in bondage. Those without property could not vote. Catholics could not hold office. Women could not vote or hold office. And homosexuality was, in some places, a crime punishable by death.”
Bloomberg chairs the group Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. He advocated for the passage of the marriage equality law in New York last year and officiated the wedding for two of his top aides on the day the law took effect.
“Throughout our history, each and every generation has expanded upon the freedoms won by their parents and grandparents,” he said. “Each and every generation has removed some barrier to full participation in the American dream. That work is not over. Far from it.”
The mayor then directly criticized the constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, which North Carolina voters passed last Tuesday by 61% to 39%. Corporate leaders had warned that the ban would harm entrepreneurship and the ability to recruit diverse talent, and the amendment was deeply unpopular on the Chapel Hill campus.
The speech called to mind a high-profile address Bloomberg delivered last May in advance of the marriage equality vote in New York. He invoked many of the same themes about the evolution of freedom in the United States.
According to The New York Times, the commencement speech, which had been scheduled months in advance, “allowed the mayor an opportunity to weigh in on an issue that dominated the national conversation last week.” President Barack Obama announced his support for marriage equality Wednesday, and he is scheduled to address graduates this afternoon at Barnard College in New York City, where he will share the stage with award recipient Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
Watch the mayor's speech below. His remarks about marriage equality begin at the 5:50 mark.