Obama in New York for Pride

Posted by – June 23, 2011

He’s there, of course, because Albany’s just about to make same sex marriage legal in New York State. Here’s a selection from what he said to an audience at the Sheraton:

What makes America great is not just the scale of our skyscrapers, or our military might, or the size of our GDP.  What makes us great is the character of our people.  Yes, we are rugged individualists and we are self-reliant, and that’s part of what makes us Americans.  We don’t like being told what to do.

But what also makes us who we are is we’ve got faith in the future and we recognize that that future is shared — the notion that I’m my brother’s keeper, I’m my sister’s keeper.  My life is richer and stronger when everybody in the country has some measure of security; everybody has got a fair shot at the American Dream.  That’s what makes us great.  That’s our vision for America.

It’s not a vision of a small America.  It’s a vision of a big America; a compassionate America; and a bold and optimistic America.  And it’s a vision where we’re living within our means, but we’re still investing in our future.  And everybody is making sacrifices, but nobody bears all the burden.  An America where we live up to the idea that no matter who we are, no matter what we look like, we are connected to one another.

That’s what led many of us to fight so hard, to knock on so many doors and maybe harangue some of our friends — this belief that it was up to each of us to perfect this union.  It was our work to make sure that we were living up to a simple American value:  We’re all created equal.  We’re all created equal.

Ever since I entered into public life, ever since I have a memory about what my mother taught me, and my grandparents taught me, I believed that discriminating against people was wrong.  I had no choice.  I was born that way.  (Laughter and applause.)  In Hawaii.  (Applause.)  And I believed that discrimination because of somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity ran counter to who we are as a people, and it’s a violation of the basic tenets on which this nation was founded.  I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.  (Applause.)

Now, there was such a good recitation earlier by Neil that I feel bad repeating it, but let me just — it bears repeating.  (Laughter.)  This is why we’re making sure that hospitals extended visitation rights to gay couples, because nobody should be barred from their bedside their partner — the beside of their partner in a moment of pain, or a moment of need.  Nobody should have to produce a legal contract to hold the hand of the person that they love.

It’s why we launched the first comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy, providing a road map not only to providing treatment and reducing infections — (applause) — but also embracing the potential of new, groundbreaking research that will help us bring an end to this pandemic.

That’s why I ordered federal agencies to extend the same benefits to gay couples that go to straight couples wherever possible.  That’s why we’re going to keep fighting until the law no longer -–

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Marriage.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Marriage.  Marriage.  Marriage.

THE PRESIDENT:  I heard you guys.  (Laughter.)  Believe it or not, I anticipated that somebody might — (Laughter and applause.)

Where was I?  (Laughter.)  That’s why we’re going to keep on fighting until the law no longer treats committed partners who’ve been together for decades like they’re strangers.

That’s why I have long believed that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act ought to be repealed.  It was wrong.  It was unfair.  (Applause.)  And since I taught constitutional law for a while, I felt like I was in a pretty good position to agree with courts that have ruled that Section 3 of DOMA violates the Constitution.  And that’s why we decided, with my attorney general, that we could no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts.  (Applause.)

Now, part of the reason that DOMA doesn’t make sense is that traditionally marriage has been decided by the states.  And right now I understand there’s a little debate going on here in New York — (laughter) — about whether to join five other states and D.C. in allowing civil marriage for gay couples.  And I want to  — I want to say that under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, with the support of Democrats and Republicans, New York is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do.  There’s a debate;  there’s deliberation about what it means here in New York to treat people fairly in the eyes of the law.

And that is — look, that’s the power of our democratic system.  It’s not always pretty.  There are setbacks.  There are frustrations.  But in grappling with tough and, at times, emotional issues in legislatures and in courts and at the ballot box, and, yes, around the dinner table and in the office hallways, and sometimes even in the Oval Office, slowly but surely we find the way forward.  That’s how we will achieve change that is lasting -– change that just a few years ago would have seemed impossible.

Now, let me just say this.  There were those who doubted that we’d be able to pass a hate crimes law.  Occasionally I got hollered at about that.  After a decades-long fight, we got it done — bring us closer to the day when nobody is going to be afraid to walk down the street because they’re gay or transgender.  (Applause.)

There were those said we couldn’t end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  And I remember having events where folks hollered out at events.  (Laughter.)  But we passed the repeal.  We got it done. We’re now moving forward with implementing it.  (Applause.)  So we’re no longer going to demand brave and patriotic Americans live a lie to serve their country.

Folks like Captain Jonathan Hopkins, who led a platoon into northern Iraq during the initial invasion, and quelled an ethnic riot, and earned a Bronze Star with valor.  He was discharged, only to receive emails and letters from his soldiers saying if they had known he was gay all along — that they had known he was gay all along and they still thought he was the best commander they had ever had.

That’s how progress is being won — here in New York, around the country.  Day by day, it’s won by ordinary people who are striving and fighting and protesting for change, and who, yes, are keeping the pressure up, including pressure on me.  And by men and women who are setting an example in their own lives — raising their families, doing their jobs, joining the PTA, singing in church, serving and sacrificing for this country overseas, even as they are not always granted the full rights of citizenship they deserve here at home.

Last year, I received a letter from a teenager growing up in a small town, and he told me he was a senior in high school, and that he was proud to be the captain of a club at his school, and that he was gay.  And he hadn’t told his parents.  He hadn’t come out.  He was worried about being mocked or being bullied.  He didn’t think it was safe to, in his words, “openly be myself.” But this 17-year-old also looked towards the day when he didn’t have to be afraid; when he didn’t have to worry about walking down the hallway.  And he closed his letter by saying, “Everyone else is considered equal in this country.  Why shouldn’t we be?” (Applause.)

So, yes, we have more work to do.  Yes, we have more progress to make.  Yes, I expect continued impatience with me on occasion.  (Laughter.)  But understand this — look, I think of teenagers like the one who wrote me, and they remind me that there should be impatience when it comes to the fight for basic equality.  We’ve made enormous advances just in these last two and a half years.  But there are still young people out there looking for us to do more, to help build a world in which they never have to feel afraid or alone to be themselves.  And we know how important that is to not only tell them that it’s going to get better, but to also do everything in our power to ensure that things actually are better.

I’m confident that we will achieve the equality that this young person deserves.  I’m confident that the future is bright for that teenager and others like him, and that he can have the life that he wants and that he imagines.

There will be setbacks along the way.  There will be times where things aren’t moving as fast as folks would like.  But I know that he’ll look back on his struggles, and the struggles of many in this room, as part of what made change possible; part of what it took to reach the day when every single American, gay or straight or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, was free to live and love as they see fit.

Although I do wish the national chant was “GENDA, ENDA!” instead, but still: legal marriage in NYC for two consenting adults is a great idea, long overdue. Hey, who knows, maybe I’ll think about coming back now.

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