Obama's second inaugural: The most important gay-rights speech ever?

The nation's 44th president is the first to say the word "gay" in an inaugural address — and equated the gay-rights battle to the historic struggles of blacks and women

President Obama made history on Jan. 21, becoming the first president to say the word "gay" in an inaugural address.
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If anyone doubted the sincerity of President Obama's election-year evolution into a supporter of gay marriage, his second inaugural address should put those doubts to rest. After mentioning the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots, a seminal moment for gay rights, alongside equally important markers for black Americans (the bloody 1965 Selma voting-rights marches) and women (the 1948 Seneca Falls women's rights and suffrage convention), Obama said this: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." In a speech that included bold calls to action on climate change, immigration reform, and protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Obama made history by just saying the word "gay" in an inaugural address, much less elevating the gay-rights battle to the struggles of blacks and women.

For all the harrumphing and cheering about how liberal the speech was, say John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin at Politico, "what's so remarkable about Obama citing 'Stonewall' or 'our gay brothers and sisters' — unthinkable in an inaugural speech a decade or two ago — is that for much of the country such references are thoroughly unremarkable." Accepting gay rights as part of the larger American struggle for equality is "simply where the country is now, and Obama, a biracial president with an African name, is as much emblematic of the shift as he is the engine."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us
Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.