For the first time, ‘our gay brothers and sisters’ included in the inaugural address

President Obama addresses the audience after taking the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
President Obama addresses the audience after taking the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
Jewel Samad /AFP/Getty Images

President Obama made history today by becoming the first president to address gay rights in an inaugural address. Speaking to the crowds on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with members of Congress and the Supreme Court justices looking on, the president extended his theme of civil rights and introduced, for the first time in an inaugural speech, an all-encompassing definition of civil rights.

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. 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.”

Although President Obama and Bill Clinton mentioned gay rights in their State of the Union speeches, President Obama became the first to openly include gay rights. He referred to the 1969 Stonewall uprising, a series of demonstrations held by the gay community to protest the frequent bar raids and mistreatment by the New York City police. Stonewall is considered the start of the gay rights movement.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths–that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” Obama said.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama asked for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy under which members of the armed forces were not able to openly express their sexuality; the rule was repealed in September 2011.

Former President Bill Clinton mentioned the LGBT community in his 2000 State of the Union address when he honored Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who was brutally beaten and killed because of his sexuality.

Later this term, the Supreme Court is expected to decide on two case involving same-sex marriages–the justices will hear arguments on March 26 and 27 on the challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and the challenges to California’s Proposition 8 marriage amendment. The Supreme Court will also review a case challenging a current federal law that bans providing benefits to federal workers whose spouses are of the same gender.