Changes in the definition of marriage, open service in the military, and an expanded hate crimes law are some of the advancements for LGBT Americans that have become a key part of President Barack Obama’s legacy.
“I am grateful for all that you’ve done to work with us to accomplish some amazing transformations over these last seven and a half years,” Obama told gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activists gathered June 9 at the White House for an LGBT Pride Month celebration.
Today, we live in an America where ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ don’t exist no more because no one should have to hide who they love in order to serve the country that they love. We live in an America that protects all of us with a hate crimes law that bears the name of Matthew Shepard.
But one week later, Obama was speaking about violence and discrimination in Orlando, where an ISIS-inspired terrorist stormed a gay nightclub early Sunday, shooting to death 49 persons and wounding more than 50 others.
“This was an attack on the LGBT community,” the president said Thursday in Orlando. “Americans were targeted because we’re a country that has learned to welcome everyone, no matter who you are or who you love; and hatred toward people because of sexual orientation, regardless of where it comes from, is a betrayal of what’s best in us.”
We have to end discrimination and violence against our brothers and sisters who are in the LGBT community—here at home and around the world, especially in countries where they are routinely persecuted.
In his first term, Obama signed into law a measure allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. After “evolving” on the issue, he expressed support for same-sex marriage just before his 2012 re-election and later approved of the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.
Most recently, the Obama Education Department threatened to withhold taxpayer dollars from school districts that did not allow transgender students to use the public restroom of their choice.
Obama did not mention the bathroom controversy during his June 9 remark at the White House, but told the group there is still much progress to be made.
“We live in a very different country after the Obama presidency than before he took office,” Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told The Daily Signal in an interview. “Had he said in 2008 that he supported the redefinition of marriage and would expect Americans to accept transgender people going into men and women’s bathrooms, he would not have been taken seriously.”
The LGBT Pride Month reception came amid continued controversy over religious freedom issues and restroom policies at the state and local level. The Obama Justice Department announced it would take a civil rights action against North Carolina over a state law requiring people to use the public restroom that comports with their biological gender.
What is troubling to us is that the president seems to have accepted the presumption that we should accept the LGBT argument that the homosexual movement trumps religious liberty. Throughout history, religious liberty–even when we disagree with it–has been a core value.
With just over seven months left in office, Obama seems committed to taking more actions for this key constituency, said Roger Severino, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.
“Now that Obama is not facing reelection, he has gone through the LGBT wish list and will apparently continue do so until Congress and the courts stop him,” Severino told The Daily Signal before the Orlando attack.
Severino said Obama now expects Americans to accept things he didn’t publicly accept when he first ran for president in 2007.
“President Obama is quick to say people who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman are engaging in discrimination, but people need to remember that the president didn’t change his own views on marriage until 2012,” Severino said.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling last June in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage across the country. But the Obama administration already had chosen not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for the purposes of federal law as the union of a man and a woman. President Bill Clinton signed that measure into law in 1996.
Following last summer’s high court ruling, the administration acted through the Treasury Department and Social Security Administration to make changes in federal tax rules and benefits for same-sex couples.
“One of the most special moments of my presidency was that warm summer night last June when we lit up the White House out there [with the rainbow colors of the LGBT movement],” Obama told his audience in the East Room:
It was a powerful symbol here at home, where more Americans finally felt accepted and whole, and that their country recognized the love that they felt. It was a beacon for people around the world who are still fighting for those rights.
Three days later, toward the end of his remarks from the White House on the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Obama said:
This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance … The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it’s a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have long come together to raise awareness, speak their mind, and advocate for their civil rights.
Among Obama’s first actions in office was pushing through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which he signed in October 2009. The law expanded the definition of hate crimes to cover those targeted because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Shepard, a gay college student who was fatally beaten and tortured in 1998 by two assailants outside Laramie, Byrd, who was black, died as three attackers dragged him behind a truck over asphalt in Jasper, Texas, also in 1998. Shepard was 21, Byrd 49.
Obama followed in 2010 by signing a bill, passed before Democrats lost control of the House, that allows gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. The measure discarded Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which allowed homosexuals to serve so long as their sexual orientation wasn’t known.
The president backed legislation in Congress to ban so-called conversion therapy for minors. However, the bill—which would have outlawed counseling aimed at “converting” young gays to heterosexuality—did not pass.
When Obama couldn’t push legislation, he took executive action.
During his first year in office, Obama issued a presidential directive allowing the State Department to extend benefits for same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers serving abroad. The Office of Personnel Management also expanded benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
In July 2014, Obama signed an executive order stating the federal government would not contract with a company that discriminates based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The executive order amended an order signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that barred federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race and religion.
On the health front, the Department of Health and Human Services requires all hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to allow same-sex partners the same visitation rights as other family members.