May 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Obama affirms LGBT support during Barnard address

NEW YORK — President Barack Obama reaffirmed his support of LGBT rights during Barnard College’s commencement address on Monday.

“No matter who you love or what God you love, you can still pursue your own happiness,” he told the nearly 600 graduates who gathered on Columbia University’s South Lawn after referencing the 1969 Stonewall riots. “I will be with you every step of the way.”

Obama joined Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson on stage less than a week after he announced his support for marriage equality during a White House interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts. Barnard also honored Care USA President Helene D. Gayle and chemistry professor Sally Chapman during the ceremony.

Retired New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye described Wolfson as a “hero for the charge of marriage equality” and a “champion for the cause of civil rights for all” before she presented Wolfson with Barnard’s Medal of Distinction.

“You have turned a once lonely march into a surging national movement,” she said to sustained applause. She further noted that the number of Americans who live in jurisdictions that allow nuptials for gays and lesbians more than doubled last June after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the state’s marriage equality bill into law. “The momentum in the direction of your dream Evan is positively undeniable. Today we hail your extraordinary influence and limitless commitment to every loving man and woman.”

Wolfson referenced the president’s own words after the speech.

“It was a proud moment to share the stage with the president of the United States as he traced the arc of America’s civil rights history from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, encouraging the next generation to get engaged in the great work at hand of building a more perfect union and making a difference in the lives of others,” Wolfson told the Blade. “To stand before the women graduates and receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction alongside the president, presented by the great Judge Judith Kaye, in a week that the president embraced the freedom to marry, was the honor of a lifetime.”

Obama, whose sister Maya Soetoro-Ng graduated from Barnard, delivered the college’s commencement address before he taped an appearance on “The View” that will air on Tuesday. The president attended two re-election campaign fundraisers—including one that gay singer Ricky Martin hosted in Chelsea—before returning to Washington, D.C.

In a related development, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney reaffirmed his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples during a speech to Liberty University graduates on Saturday.

A USA Today/Gallup poll released late on Friday indicated that Obama’s support of marriage for gays and lesbians will not influence how the majority of Americans vote in November. Sixty-five percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans who responded to the survey said the president’s position does not make them more or less likely to vote for him. The poll further noted that 74 percent of Republicans oppose Obama’s endorsement of nuptials for gays and lesbians, compared to only 25 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of independents.

Gay New York State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), who attended the Barnard speech, told the Blade after the commencement that the address “is another articulation by this administration that they view me and people like me as full Americans.” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand agreed.

“President Obama couldn’t have said it better when he encouraged the students to fight for their seat at the head of the table,” she told the Blade in a statement. “When we have women at decision making tables in politics and business the outcomes are simply better.”

Barack Obama, Barnard College, gay news, gay politics dc, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama delivers Barnard College’s commencement address on May 14. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)


Evan Wolfson, Judith Kaye, Barnard College, gay news, gay politics dc, Washington Blade

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson stands alongside retired New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye during Barnard College’s commencement on May 14. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)


Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • You left this out – what Barack Obama Actually said about LGBTI Americans right to marry
    PRESIDENT OBAMA Now– I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized.

    And what you’re seeing is, I think, states working through this issue– in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that’s a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.

    ROBIN ROBERTS: Well, Mr. President, it’s– it’s not being worked out on the state level. We saw that Tuesday in North Carolina, the 30th state to announce its ban on gay marriage.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well– well– well, what I’m saying is is that different states are coming to different conclusions. But this debate is taking place– at a local level. And I think the whole country is evolving and changing. And– you know, one of the things that I’d like to see is– that a conversation continue in a respectful way.

    I think it’s important to recognize that– folks– who– feel very strongly that marriage should be defined narrowly as– between a man and a woman– many of them are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective. They’re coming at it because they care about families. And– they– they have a different understanding, in terms of– you know, what the word “marriage” should mean. And I– a bunch of ’em are friends of mine– you know, pastors and– you know, people who– I deeply respect.

  • Romney and his wife had a net worth of between $190 and $250 million, most of it held in blind trusts since 2003. It has been estimated that Romney has amassed twice the net worth of the last eight presidents combined, and would rank among the four richest in American history if elected. Talk about the 1%!

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