Amid festivities from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, President Obama will officially begin his second term on Monday while LGBT advocates have high hopes for the actions he might undertake in the next four years.
There will be two swearing-in ceremonies for Obama. On Sunday, the president will be sworn into office by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House, where he’ll place his hand on the Robinson family Bible when he takes the Oath of Office. A public ceremony will take place on Monday at the Capitol Building, where Obama will place his hand on two Bibles: one from President Lincoln, the other from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Following the public ceremony on Monday, Obama will deliver his inauguration speech before an anticipated crowd of 500,000 to 800,000 people on the National Mall. The inaugural parade will begin at 2:30 p.m. and will proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.
The area for non-ticketed viewing is between Fourth Street Northwest and the Washington Monument on the National Mall, which can be entered on Constitution Avenue at 7th, 9th or 12th streets, N.W. and also on Independence Avenue, S.W. at 7th and 12th streets. In addition to the obvious closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, both the Third and 12th Street tunnels will be closed as well as the Memorial Bridge.
Obama begins his second term after noteworthy accomplishments for the LGBT community — including coming out in favor of marriage equality and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — and expectations remain high for administrative actions to advance LGBT issues in the next few years.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said Obama “got off to really rough start” by taking some controversial actions — such as withholding support for marriage equality and issuing a legal brief in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act that was riddled with anti-gay language — but noted an “increasingly productive tone” by the end of the his term.
“If you look at the very early on rough start and then how far the administration and President Obama came within that four years, it is significant,” Carey said. “To go from in the very first months huge missteps around, in particular marriage, to his last year of this term coming out publicly as the first president in support of our marriages, it’s a huge shift.”
Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based advocate, said Obama “delivered in a major way” during his first term on LGBT issues, but will be expected to build on the progress right away at the start of his second term.
“All indications are that the president has the opportunity to very strongly build on a great first term record,” Socarides said. “Obviously, there was some tension along the way, but people feel good about what he was able to accomplish in the first term. But on the eve of the second term, the big issues are going to come up right away.”
Administrative action is seen as the way forward for many LGBT issues because the Republican-controlled House is expected to block any meaningful legislation from passing Congress.
The requests from the LGBT community are already well-established and many of them must be undertaken within a few weeks after Obama is sworn in for his second term. A list of some of the more prominent requests follows:
• the reaffirmation from defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel during his Senate confirmation hearings on Jan. 31 that he’ll support LGBT military families and extend partner benefits and non-discrimination protections upon the taking the helm at the Pentagon;
• the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief by the Justice Department before the Supreme Court prior to the Feb. 28 deadline to assert same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution as justices consider the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8;
• signing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation to continue receiving federal awards, a move that would cover between 400,000 and 600,000 LGBT workers;
• the appointment of LGBT officials to prominent positions in the administration, such as Cabinet-level positions or G-20 ambassadorships — particularly with prominent vacancies at the head of the Commerce Department, Labor Department and Department of the Interior;
• holding in abeyance the marriage-based green card applications of married bi-national same-sex couples to ensure these families aren’t separated before the Supreme Court makes a final determination on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
But Carey cautioned that some of the advances to come may be more low-key internal changes within the administration — such as the inclusion of LGBT questions on the hundreds of federal surveys conducted each year.
“The results for those surveys determine the flow of money and the flow of attention from the federal government to communities around the country,” Carey said. “Currently, our community is basically rendered invisible when it comes to those surveys, which means that our community is not getting the funding for our community-based organizations, for youth services, for any number of services around the country.”
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to calls for continued attention to LGBT issues by noting progress made in the first four years.
“President Obama is proud of the many accomplishments he’s achieved on LGBT equality during his first term, and he looks forward to building on that progress in the months and years to come,” Inouye said.
Already, Obama was faced with a controversy over the choice of an inaugural speaker. In 2009, Pastor Rick Warren of the California-based Saddleback Church was selected to give the inaugural benediction — and remained in place — despite outcry over his support for Prop 8.
This time around, things are different. Pastor Louie Giglio of the Georgia-based Passion City Church said he would “respectfully withdraw” from the same duties after an anti-gay sermon from the 1990s came to light in which he advocated for widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy and urged Christians to stop the “homosexual lifestyle” from being accepted in society.
In his place, the committee has selected Rev. Luis Leon of the D.C.-based St. John’s Church near the White House, to deliver the benediction. His church, which is often attended by Obama, is known for its pro-LGBT atmosphere. According to The Huffington Post, it has had openly gay, non-celibate priests and a gay bishop in addition to announcing this summer that it would bless same-sex partnerships and ordain transgender priests. Leon also gave the inaugural benediction for President George W. Bush in 2005.
Carey said replacing Giglio as the inaugural pastor — as opposed to allowing Warren to stay on in 2009 while including gay Rev. Gene Robinson at another event hosted by HBO — certainly “feels like” a promising shift in terms of the expectations of tone that will be seen from the Obama administration on LGBT issues over the next four years.
“It feels like it, and I hope that tone continues,” Carey said. “For the inaugural committee and the administration to reverse course on someone they had already publicly announced as a key participant of the swearing-in day, I think, was not only a significant victory for our community, but it absolutely showed that this administration has moved in its understanding that prejudice coming from the inaugural swearing-in podium will not be tolerated in this country.”