Despite the presence of “religious freedom” heroes in the Capitol – a clear demonstration of Republicans’ intention to keep the culture wars alive – President Obama mostly steered clear of contentious social issues during his final State of the Union address.
Obama vowed to keep pushing for equal pay and paid leave during his final year in the White House. But he never mentioned contraception or abortion access – two issues at the heart of high-profile Supreme Court cases this year.
The president credited “our unique strengths as a nation” with “how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.” But he made no call for a nationwide ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the lack of which leaves LGBT Americans vulnerable to losing their jobs, homes, and access to public accommodations in over half the country.
This display of caution comes as a bit of a surprise, considering some of the guests in attendance. Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, invited Kentucky clerk Kim Davis – known for her religious stand against a federal court order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, brought two members of the Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, a Catholic nonprofit challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that group insurance plans offer contraceptive coverage to employees at no additional cost.Among the guests in the first lady’s box was Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that made marriage equality the law of the land last year. He told reporters earlier Tuesday that he hoped the president would highlight “everything he has done to stand up and be our advocate.” But it looks like Obama opted for a more humble approach instead.