Obama presses for gay rights in speech

President Obama called for gays and lesbians to be treated “like anyone else under the law” during his inaugural address Monday — the first mention of gay rights in such a speech.

“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,” Obama said.

The comment was likely as intended for the justices of the Supreme Court gathered on the inaugural platform as for the members of Congress who sat nearby. The court agreed last month to hear arguments on two cases involving same-sex marriage, opening the door for a ruling with sweeping implications.

Later in the speech, the president compared the struggle for immigration reform and gay rights to the civil-rights battles for gender and racial equality in the past century.

“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.

The Stonewall riots were sparked by police harassment at a gay bar in Greenwich Village in 1969, and are considered the precursor to the modern gay-rights movement.

Gay rights’ groups were quick to praise the president’s comments, with Evan Wolfson, the founder of pro-gay-marriage group Freedom to Marry, saying he “applauds our president and the moral leadership he has shown.”

“In his second inaugural today, President Obama traced the moral arc from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, and rightly exalted the struggle for the freedom to marry as part of America’s moral commitment to equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Wolfson said in a statement.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said he thought it was appropriate that Obama discussed gay marriage moments after having taken the oath of office on Bibles belonging to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. 

“By lifting up the lives of LGBT families for the very first time in an inaugural address, President Obama sent a clear message to LGBT young people from the Gulf Coast to the Rocky Mountains that this country’s leaders will fight for them until equality is the law of the land,” Griffin said in a statement.

“As the merits of marriage equality come up for debate from statehouses to the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a broad majority of Americans are standing up for liberty and fairness, the president’s unequivocal support for equality is a clarion call that all Americans should receive with celebration,” he said.

Griffin also applauded the invocation of Stonewall, calling it “a testament to the valiant contributions of LGBT Americans past and present.”

“We were honored that the president included Stonewall among the historic events in American history that have made our union stronger,” Griffin said.

African-American leaders also praised the discussion of same-sex marriage within the umbrella of an overarching push for civil rights. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said that “in the American tent, all are welcome.”

“What struck me most was how easy it is to talk about some subjects that were not so easy to talk about before,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). “We have moved quite far in a relatively short period of time.” 

 Other liberal leaders and members of Congress likewise applauded the president’s call for same-sex marriage.

“The president really hit the right issues,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. “Every part of the speech, he had it just right.”

Republicans, for their part, mostly shied away from discussion of the speech’s call for same-sex marriage, although some members of the GOP said it tended toward partisan rhetoric.

“I had hoped his speech would be a little less partisan than it was at times, but I nevertheless think he intends to reach out and work together, and I liked the diversity of the program,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Obama became the first sitting president to advocate for same-sex marriage during an interview last May with ABC News.

“At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said at the time.

In a poll released last month by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, 51 percent said they now back same-sex marriage. That was the first time a majority indicated support, up from just three in 10 Americans supporting gay marriage in 2004.

— Elise Viebeck, Jeremy Herb, Jordy Yager and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

—Updated at 8:13 p.m.