President Obama pledged during his State of the Union address to work this year to repeal the ban preventing gays from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.
“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.
The State of the Union address on Wednesday marks the first time Obama has set a time for when he would tackle his 2008 campaign pledge to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Lawmakers attending Obama’s speech responded to his declaration with roaring applause.
Obama offered new details on his promise to repeal the law in a portion of his speech on the advancement of civil rights in his administration.
In the same part of the speech, Obama also touted how the nation has strengthened “laws to protect against crimes driven by hate,” presumably a reference to the passage last year of a federal hate crimes law protecting LGBT people.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Obama for renewing his pledge to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in a statement released following his speech.
“The Commander in Chief sent a clear message tonight that in a time of war, what matters is that our men and women get the job done — not whether they’re gay or straight,” he said.
Solmonese said HRC will work to support Obama in his pledge to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through its “Voices of Honor campaign” — an HRC-led initiative geared toward building public support for ending the law.
The campaign will work organize veterans across the country, generate media coverage and build focused campaigns in key states critical to final votes in Congress, according to the HRC statement.
Also commending Obama for pledging to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 is Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Paul DeMiglio, spokesperson for the organization, said “we very much need a sense of urgency” to make repeal happen this year.
“As Rep. Patrick Murphy and Sen. [Kirsten] Gillibrand have made clear, this is the year to repeal the law,” DeMiglio said. “What is also needed is more attention and leadership to win repeal. The American public, including conservatives, is overwhelmingly with the commander-in-chief on this one.”
DeMiglio said SLDN is calling on Obama to include repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of his defense budget request that the Pentagon is expected to deliver to Congress next month.
Murphy, the Pennsylvania Democrat who sponsors the repeal bill in the U.S. House, also applauded Obama for making the commitment to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“While we increase our forces to fight terrorism, it makes no sense to kick out fighter pilots, medics, and Arabic linguists at the rate of nearly two servicemembers a day,” Murphy said. “It is time to repeal this ridiculous law that hurts our national security and military readiness.”
Another topic Obama mentioned of interest to many LGBT people is comprehensive immigration reform. Obama asked Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the immigration problems facing the country.
“We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system — to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations,” Obama said.
Many same-sex bi-national couples are looking to Congress to pass immigration reform this year and to include a provision that would allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency. Current law prevents an estimated 36,000 bi-national couples from staying together in the United States.
Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said the inclusion of immigration reform in the State of the Union address is “a welcome sign.”
“The White House has said in the past that they support ending discrimination against gay immigrant families and we expect that to be the case moving forward as well,” Ralls said. “Immigration reform is something that both progressives and conservatives agree needs to be tackled, so it makes sense to keep with the pledge to move forward on that as soon as possible.”