Inauguration Inspires Marriage Equality Statement from Collingswood Business
Mindy Leher and Jen Hilgenberg of Lil' Diesel heard the president's remarks Monday and decided to show their support. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in March.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," Barack Obama said in his inaugural address Jan. 18. "For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
It was not the only cause to receive attention from the president in his remarks, but it is the most immediately noteworthy.
In the last election, Maine, Maryland and Washington all passed ballot questions legalizing same-sex marriage. A Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative—which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state—is expected in March. And Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to openly support same-sex marriage.
By giving the issue special attention in his inaugural address, wrote Kerry Eleveld in The Atlantic, the president was doing one better than writing an amicus brief for same-sex marriage defenders in the case. He was making history.
In symbolic terms, the president's sentiment is even more important. It demonstrates that the man who is by his very presence in the Oval Office the greatest civil-rights achievement of this nation, views the cause of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans in a similar light to those of other great movements. It is, in fact, a statement that urges a milestone ruling from the court that would recall landmark decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 or Loving v. Virginia in 1967.
In her own way, Leher said, she hopes that her T-shirt can send a similar message of empowerment.
"I think when [Obama] got re-elected, there’s 8,000 different issues," she said, "but I think for our community, there’s a lot of hope. Living in Collingswood, which is a very gay community, whether you’re gay or not...that was a very big deal for a lot of people."
"It’s civil rights," Leher said. "It’s not like we’re out there marching the streets, but it would be cool to let people in Collingswood know that this is what we do."
Patch blogger Robb C. Sewell, who writes about GLBTQ issues on this site, said in an email that the speech moved many of his friends to tears, "their hearts touched by a president who publicly acknowledged that they, their relationships, their lives do matter."
He added that "some said it was a day that they thought they would never see.
"It was a monumental moment in history, no doubt," Sewell wrote. "Like many of my friends, I was and am filled with hope that equality may be at hand."
But what's important in this context, Sewell believes, is that the president's remarks included same-sex marriage in a long list of issues faced by a number of marginalized groups, including "women, minorities, older people [and] those with disabilities.
"Is it a pipe dream? Perhaps," Sewell wrote. "But it is my sincere hope that equality may be in sight at last."
Obama's remarks seem to reflect that consideration. Just a few lines down from his comments on same-sex marriage, the President offered this sentiment on the need for Americans to not only recognize inequality but to remedy it:
Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.
Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.
When the question of legalizing same-sex marriage came before New Jersey lawmakers in 2012, it passed both houses, but was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. A pair of Rutgers-Eagleton polls at the time showed that a majority of the state supported same-sex marriage as well as Christie's call for a public referendum on the question.