In President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, he made two references to the gays and lesbians — one more obvious than the other, but both in alignment with similar remarks in his second inaugural address. Referring to the nation’s promise of economic stability, Obama said that “who you love” should not impede your ability to be rewarded for hard work:
OBAMA: It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class. It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love. It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.
Later in the speech, Obama more directly addressed the newly announced benefits for the same-sex partners of military servicemembers:
OBAMA: All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.
Reactions from the LGBT movement were mixed, but not overly critical. Nevertheless, Obama did not utilize the opportunity to specify action on protecting the employment rights of LGBT people through either the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or an executive order for government contractors, as had been hoped. Further, there was no reference to members of the trans community, who continue to face some alarmingly high rates of discrimination and mistreatment in society. Still, references to gays and lesbians and the need to protect their families are important, and the high expectations for LGBT-inclusion in the State of the Union reflect just how far the nation has progressed.