By Joe Solmonese
Originally published on Advocate.com May 23 2012 8:00 AM ET
When President Obama made history by becoming the first sitting President to support marriage equality, he spoke up because it was the right thing to do—and because of the millions of LGBT Americans and allies who came forward to share our stories.
It's a lesson we've learned over and over again since this President took office: Grassroots organizing and a courageous leader who is a true ally for our community are together an unstoppable force that can move our country forward. And we've also learned — the hard way— that we can't afford to go back.
Just look at what we've achieved over the last three and a half years: After more than a decade, we got the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law, sending a clear message that we will not stand for an America where anyone has to live in fear because of who they are or love.
We worked with President Obama to end the ban on those with HIV from entering the country. For the first time in more than 20 years, the International AIDS Conference will take place in the United States this July. Thanks to the first national HIV/AIDS strategy, implemented by the Obama administration, and advances in research, treatment, and prevention in past decades, an AIDS-free generation is within reach.
The President and First Lady joined the fight to end bullying in schools, with the President recording an "It Gets Better" message to LGBT youth. And last September we celebrated the end of "don't ask, don't tell" — and our military is stronger because of the brave gay and lesbian servicemembers who can now serve openly.
President Obama awarded Janice Langbehn, who spoke out after being kept from the bedside of the woman she loved as she lay dying, the Presidential Citizens Medal, and promised her that he would stop the discrimination her family had endured during the most difficult moments of their lives. He kept his word — and now hospitals that get Medicare or Medicaid funds have to grant equal visitation and decision-making rights to gay and lesbian couples. The federal government now also extends certain benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, and the Justice Department has stopped defending the discriminatory DOMA law.
Millions of gay and lesbian young adults have the security of knowing that our President is making sure they have the same opportunities he wants for his own children. Young LGBT Americans see more openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in executive-branch positions today than under any of President Obama's predecessors combined.
With the President's historic statement on marriage equality, the choice we're facing as a country and as a community couldn't be clearer: We can re-elect a leader who is working with our community toward full equality under the law, or we can sit back and watch Mitt Romney take us back to where we started.
In Mitt Romney, Republicans have picked a candidate to the right of President Bush when it comes to equal rights. Romney's position on same-sex marriage is also historic, but not in the way it should be: He has pledged to write discrimination into the Constitution by stopping committed gay and lesbian couples from marrying — the first time in our country's history that we would amend the Constitution to deny rights to Americans.
Romney opposes civil unions and said he would allow states to discriminate against LGBT couples, stopping them from enjoying equal rights and benefits like providing health insurance to their partners and children, visit each other in the hospital, and adopt children together. He even opposed repealing "don't ask, don't tell," saying doing so would be a "social experiment."
We can't afford a President who wants to curtail the rights we've already won. We need a President who wants to keep expanding our rights toward the full equality we've always deserved. That's why I'm going to do everything I can in the next six months to make sure President Obama wins in November. I hope you'll join me.
This month, the campaign is launching Obama Pride: LGBT Americans for Obama. LGBT supporters across the country will come together to let the President know we've got his back. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines — we need to register voters and talk to our friends and neighbors about everything President Obama has done for our community and for the country as a whole. And there's no better time to get going than Pride month.
It's going to take all of us organizing every day between now and November 6 to protect the progress we've made under President Obama. We should be guided and motivated by the same principle that drives the President: It's the right thing to do.
JOE SOLMONESE is a national co-chair of the Obama campaign and president of the Human Rights Campaign.