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State of the Unions Past

State of the Unions Past

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After the deafening silence of the Ronald Reagan administration on HIV/AIDS and gay civil rights, issues of LGBT import have trickled into the text of presidential State of the Union addresses. Some references have been positive, some poisonous, and others paeans to equality that history has yet to judge as progress or inconsequence.

As President Barack Obama prepares to give his 2011 State of the Union address to Congress and distinguished guests (including Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old gay congressional intern who rushed to the aid of Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords), The Advocate looks back at gay rights statements by commanders in chief past and present during these seminal speeches:


"You also have to agree that all those differences you just clapped for all too often spark hatred and division even here at home. Just in the last couple of years, we've seen a man dragged to death in Texas just because he was black. We saw a young man murdered in Wyoming just because he was gay. Last year we saw the shootings of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Jewish children just because of who they were. This is not the American way, and we must draw the line. I ask you to draw that line by passing without delay the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act."

-- President Bill Clinton, State of the Union, January 27, 2000

President Clinton also mentioned hate-crimes legislation and ENDA in his 1999 address. In this address from 2000 he made reference to Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998. In 2009, Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill that expanded hate-crimes law to cover attacks based on sexual orientation, gender identity, actual or perceived gender, and disability. Congress has yet to pass ENDA.

"A strong America must also value the institution of marriage. I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization. Congress has already taken a stand on this issue by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President Clinton. That statute protects marriage under federal law as a union of a man and a woman and declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states.

"Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage. The outcome of this debate is important, and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight."

-- President George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 23, 2004

"Activist judges" became a central motif in President Bush's opposition to marriage equality and support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He made similar statements in 2005 and 2006 SOTU addresses:

"Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be redefined by activist judges. For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage."

-- President George W. Bush, State of the Union, February 2, 2005

"Yet many Americans, especially parents, still have deep concerns about the direction of our culture and the health of our most basic institutions. They're concerned about unethical conduct by public officials and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage. They worry about children in our society who need direction and love, and about fellow citizens still displaced by natural disaster, and about suffering caused by treatable diseases.

"As we look at these challenges, we must never give in to the belief that America is in decline or that our culture is doomed to unravel. The American people know better than that. We have proven the pessimists wrong before, and we will do it again."

-- President George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 31, 2006

"We must continually renew this promise. My administration has a civil rights division that is, once again, prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do."

-- President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 27, 2010

In December, President Obama signed a bill repealing the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" statute, which had barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Statements on HIV/AIDS:

"[We] must strengthen the family because it is the family that has the greatest bearing on our future. When Barbara holds an AIDS baby in her arms and reads to children, she's saying to every person in this country: Family matters."

-- President George H.W. Bush, State of the Union, January 28, 1992

"Since I took office, funding for AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health has increased dramatically to $1.5 billion. With new resources, NIH will now become the most powerful discovery engine for an AIDS vaccine, working with other scientists to finally end the threat of AIDS. Remember that every year -- every year -- we move up the discovery of an AIDS vaccine will save millions of lives around the world. We must reinforce our commitment to medical science."

-- President Bill Clinton, State of the Union, February 4, 1997

"America is leading the fight against disease. With your help, we are working to cut by half the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations. And our emergency plan for AIDS relief is treating 1.4 million people. We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success. And I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next five years."

-- President George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 28, 2008

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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