President Obama called on Americans to work toward a brighter future during a State of the Union address on Tuesday that hit on issues ranging from the economy, foreign policy and the environment — but lacked any substantial mention of LGBT-related policy issues.
In his speech before a joint session of Congress, Obama urged cooperation as he laid out a series of policy initiatives aimed at bolstering the nation’s standing both at home and abroad.
“As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful and the state of our Union will always be strong,” Obama said.
On the economic front, Obama outlined a blueprint built on four pillars: manufacturing, energy, skills for workers and a renewal of values.
Among the initiatives he identified were doubling tax deductions for high-tech companies that make products in the United States; creating a Trade Enforcement Unit charged with investigating unfair practices in countries like China; and proposing a Veterans Job Corps to encourage communities to hire veterans as cops and firefighters.
Obama also said he’d continue his pledge to work toward deficit reduction and make sacrifices in programs like Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for making sure millionaires pay at least 30 percent in taxes.
“Now, you can call this class warfare all you want,” Obama said. “But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”
Foreign policy was also a major component of the speech. Obama touted the death of Osama bin Laden under his watch and the end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The president also said he “will take no options off the table” in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although he prefers a peaceful resolution to the issue.
Coming off his decision to nix the Keystone Pipeline that would have carried oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, Obama acknowledged environmental groups by calling for alternative energy development.
“I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here,” Obama said. “We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough.”
But any reference to LGBT policy issues were absent from the speech. Obama only mentioned “gay” as part of a list of categories of people who could serve in uniform — a reference to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight,” Obama said.
A mention of LGBT issues wasn’t expected in the speech, although state advocates said an endorsement of marriage equality in the address could help with efforts to pass such legislation in Washington State and Maryland.
The president also faced calls to declare his intent to issue an executive order barring federal dollars from going to companies that lack LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies.
John Aravosis, who’s gay and editor of AMERICAblog, said Obama could have gone further in his speech to address LGBT issues.
“I didn’t really expect him to come out for marriage equality or even announce his support for an executive order on ENDA,” Aravosis said. “But at the very least he could have, should have, mentioned ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and recognized the two lesbians invited to sit with the first lady. It was far more understated than I think it should have been.”
The lesbians that Aravosis referenced were two guests that attended the speech in the first lady’s box with Michelle Obama after receiving invitations from the White House. The president made no mention of them in his address.
Lorelei Kilker, a 31-year-old analytical chemist from Brighton, Colo., was among a class of women benefiting from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s investigation of alleged sex discrimination at her former employer, the Western Sugar Cooperative. In October, those who were involved in the case received an award of $550,000, which was achieved through a cooperative process between the employer and EEOC.
The other invitee was Air Force Col. Ginger Wallace, who’s 43 and lives in McLean, Va. She’s currently training to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring through the Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands program. The Blade reported in December on Wallace’s partner Kathy Knopf participating in Wallace’s “pinning-on” promotion ceremony.
Also in the address, Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform legislation and passage of the DREAM ACT, which would give young, undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship if they pursue military service or a college education.
“If election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country,” Obama said. “Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”
Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, commended the president for reissuing his call for immigration reform, but said that vision should be inclusive of binational LGBT families.
“The president laid out an eloquent vision this evening of an America where everyone plays by the same rules, and shares the same opportunities and chances,” Ralls said. “The tens of thousands of LGBT binational couples who live every day with the threat of separation, or are already separated or in exile, want nothing more than that.”
Under current law, straight Americans can sponsor their foreign spouses for residency in the United States. That option isn’t available to gay Americans seeking marriage-based green cards for foreign same-sex partners. Legislation known as the Uniting American Families Act would rectify this situation.
“It also time for the president to endorse, and call for the passage of, the Uniting American Families Act,” Ralls said. “The administration has taken important steps forward in recent months, including exercising discretion to keep some couples together. We’re prepared, and ready, to work with the White House to make that progress permanent, and pass UAFA, whether alone or as part of a comprehensive bill.”
LGBT groups on the right and left responded to the State of the Union speech in accordance with their political views.
Chris Barron, chief strategist of the gay conservative group GOProud, said gay and straight Americans alike know that policies like those Obama advocates for in his speech have been a disaster for the country.
“Barack Obama used tonight’s State of the Union to stoke the fires of class warfare,” Barron said. “It is clear that this president fundamentally doesn’t understand how jobs are created. Instead of taking responsibility for the failures of his presidency, he has instead decided to double down on his failed policies that will undermine our free market economic system that is responsible for making America the greatest country on the planet.”
Barron was at the National Press Club during the State of the Union address with former Republican presidential candidate and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who delivered the Tea Party response to the speech.
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Obama’s speech was “a bold and clear vision for the future” and distinct from what he called the “tired and disproven schemes” advocated by Republican presidential candidates.
“Equality is a value at the heart of our movement and tonight, the president described a blueprint for America that is undeniably pro-equality — everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed and everyone should pay their fair share,” Davis said. “From a sensible and fair tax policy to rebuilding America’s infrastructure, the president’s blueprint for a lasting economy is exactly what our country needs to put millions back to work and make the American Dream a reality for generations to come.”
Yet another national LGBT group urged Obama to continue work on his LGBT advocacy.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said Obama should “urge his administration and Congress to work together to ensure that everybody — including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — have an opportunity to offer their unfettered best to America.”
“This is a challenge right now, in a nation where the rich are getting richer and everyone else is struggling to tread water,” Carey said. “Many families are hurting, and LGBT families are just as vulnerable to economic hardship. The fact is, the state of the union for LGBT people remains largely one of inequality. In many parts of the country, we can still be fired from or denied employment for simply being who we are, and marriage inequality relegates our families to second-class status.”