Support for same-sex marriage tops the list for what LGBT rights supporters want to hear from President Obama next week during his State of the Union address.
The demand from advocates makes for great expectations for the speech, which is set to take place before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.
An opponent of same-sex marriage, Obama has suggested his position could “evolve” on the matter and said last month he’s “wrestling” with the idea of marriage rights for gay couples.
Obama hasn’t stated support for same-sex marriage even though several states — including Rhode Island and Maryland — could advance marriage equality legislation this year, while others — including New Hampshire, Indiana and North Carolina — could see restrictions on such rights.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said stating support for same-sex marriage during the State of the Union address would demonstrate Obama’s leadership.
“We would like for him to publicly state his support for marriage equality,” Carey said. “We have wanted him to lead on this issue. He has talked about … experiencing some evolution, and we’d like to say, ‘Evolve now!’”
Carey said she expects that Obama will discuss the economic hardships facing the country, which she said would present an opportunity for the president to acknowledge that a lack of marriage rights exacerbates these problems for same-sex couples.
“One of these stresses for same-sex couples on their families is because we can’t get married in so many places and because of DOMA, there are so many ways that we do not have protections for our families that are only adding stress in this economic climate,” she said.
Richard Socarides, president of the media watchdog group Equality Matters, also said Obama should talk about his “journey of evolution” and come out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“I think that it’s important for him to get to the other side of the journey as quickly as possible because he is the leader of our country and he needs to be leading us and the nation in a direction of acceptance of full equality for LGBT people,” Socarides said.
Still, Socarides said he thinks Obama will focus on the economy as well as the political tone in Washington and expressed skepticism that Obama would broach the topic of same-sex marriage during his speech.
“I think it would be a perfect opportunity for him to announce that his evolution is complete,” Socarides said. “But just because I think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean I think we’ll see it. I think he’s not there yet.”
Whether the president will even address LGBT issues during his speech remains in question. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said as of Blade deadline he had no updates on what would be included in the State of the Union address.
During a news conference Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he didn’t know whether the president would address marriage or repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act during his speech.
Mentioning LGBT issues such as same-sex marriage during the State of the Union could be a catalyst for progress in the coming year.
Last year, President Obama’s mention of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was seen as the starting point for the path that led to the passage of legislation allowing for repeal of the law.
“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,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Socarides said the State of the Union address presents “the perfect place” for Obama to set up the path for advancement on LGBT issues like marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“When, as president, one mentions something in the State of the Union, you are conveying to the public at large that this is something that is crucially important to you,” Socarides said. “So, I think that highlighting the issue of marriage equality in the State of the Union speech would be very significant.”
In addition to support for same-sex marriage, LGBT rights supporters said they would like to hear about a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the address.
Autumn Sandeen, a San Diego-based transgender activist, said Obama needs to address employment discrimination experienced by transgender people as well as gays on the national level.
“Honestly, I would also just like to hear him say the word ‘transgender’ on the floor of the House,” she said. “That would be awfully nice.”
With Republicans in control of the U.S. House, Sandeen said she doesn’t think ENDA would pass Congress for at least the next two years and wants to hear from Obama on what he would do to address employment discrimination for the duration of that time.
Carey said renewing support for ENDA would be another way for Obama to recognize that economic hardships in the country are also affecting LGBT people.
“There are so many LGBT people in this country whose jobs are not protected from basic bias and discrimination,” Carey said. “We would like to see him call for those employment protections for LGBT people.”
Other issues that Carey identified as important for Obama to address include school bullying and passing immigration reform and ensuring that Social Security benefits aren’t cut.