In the wee morning hours of Nov. 7, I like many Americans had my heavy sleep deprived eyes glued to the TV as President Obama addressed his supporters and the nation. Make no mistake about it; this was a moment for history. The first African American president in the history of the United States had been reelected to a second term, cementing his rightful place in history and showing the world that his initial election was not a fluke.
Let’s face it, President Obama was facing tremendous pressure in his reelection campaign. Would he end up going down in history as the first African-American president who was only able to serve one term? Would he still have the same support he had in 2008? How would his handling of the economy and stance on social issues sit with voter when they went to cast their ballots?
Therefore, President Obama’s decision to come out in support of same sex marriage so close to reelection was even more important. This decision showed us that President Obama was a leader who talked-the-talked and walked-the-walk. More importantly, his advocacy has shown Americans that equality is an issue that has been ignored for too long and now is the time to start making change.
His reelection coincided with a number of major victories for LGBT equality across the country. For the first time, all of the ballot measures dealing with marriage equality came out in favor of marriage equality advocates and allowed them to place a check mark in the victory column. Social conservatives were handed a defeat as they tried to remove an Iowa Supreme Court judge who had voted to legalize gay marriage in 2009 (despite the fact that they had previously succeeded in removing three judges in 2010). Additionally, 123 out of 180 gay candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund won their respective races—including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin who becomes the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.
In many ways the LGBT community and advocates owe part of these victories to President Obama and his administration. Now I know some are saying that is absolutely absurd and are ready to write negative comments about how misguided I am. But I ask you give me a second to make my point.
I am in no way trying to demean the efforts by millions of Americans who have fought for years to obtain equality for the LGBT community. The successes to date are directly a result of their blood, sweat, tears, hard work, and determination. However, we have to look no further than the Civil Rights Movement to see how the support of an administration can mean the world to the quest for equality.
The election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 not only marked an era of change but a new era for progressives and their goals. President Obama with his mantra of change ushered in a new way of thinking and a more progressive government needed for modern times. President Obama was not about to let the old way of thinking get in the way of creating a greater America for all. As a result, we have witnessed an administration that has done more to extended equality to the LGBT community than any before it.
While some may counter and say that President Obama has not done enough, we cannot discount all that has been done for the LGBT community. I personally would have liked to see an end to work place discrimination with the passage of sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act. We have far too many LGBT workers either suffering from high unemployment or are a decision away of losing their jobs simply for being who they are. But we all must acknowledge that all of the issues affecting the LGBT community cannot be solved in four short years.
The president’s support of LGBT issues and his evolution on marriage equality are a tremendous boost to progressives everywhere. Regardless if LGBT equality may be the “sexy” issue, leaning too far left on these issues could have ended up being a political liability. Even in the face of a reelection campaign where social issues may not have been the biggest hot button issue, President Obama’s decisions on these issues could have cost him some critical votes. Yet, he chose to stand on the side of equality. He did not waver. He did not back down.
That is simply what we ask of a leader—to stand up for those in need and ensure that they are treated fairly and equally with the rest of society—especially the President of the United States. President Obama has done just that. He should be commended for that. He could have buckled under the pressure that he has done much for the LGBT community but did not do nearly enough in other areas like immigration.
When the leader of the free world throws his support behind something, people take notice. Knowing that the president makes equality a priority helps to elevate reservations that some may have when it comes to progressive measures. I am sure that some voters who were on the fence about LGBT equality were swayed with the fact that the President of the United States was able to evolve on equality issues, so why shouldn’t they?
Simply, we need to be thanking President Obama for his unwavering leadership when it comes to LGBT equality. He has allowed equality to be the topic of conversation for a number of people who otherwise would not because his presidency has galvanized people politically. His leadership is ushering us forward, not back. Full LGBT equality is closer because President Obama has had the courage to make it so.
Jerome Hunt, Ph.D. is a researcher specializing in “post-racial” black leaders and the black LGBT community and is a Visiting Professor at the University of the District of Columbia. The views expressed in this article are his own. Reach him at Jerome.firstname.lastname@example.org.