I always get goose bumps each time I watch a presidential inauguration, but never have I felt such emotion as I did yesterday with the second inaugural of Barack Obama.
Of course Obama’s first inauguration was historic in its own right, and was made more so by being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln – a milestone acknowledged by the use of the Lincoln bible during the swearing-in. The symbolism and promise in that moment made me so proud to be an American. This second inaugural had its own share of milestones: the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the installation of the statue of Freedom atop the Capitol building, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as well as the fact that it was MLK Day.
But for me, the emotion came not from these symbols but from the words of the President’s speech when he noted the struggles from Seneca Falls and Selma to Stonewall. I was especially moved by his reference to the Declaration of Independence that if we are all created equal, then surely that must include gays and lesbians. And if we are equal, then our love must also be equal. This as the justices of the Supreme Court, about to hear the important cases on this very issue, sat nearby. Most of us remember a time when being in the closet was de rigueur, and some of us are still there because of our jobs or for other reasons. These words from the President of the United States will be forever enshrined in the pantheon of historic moments in our nation’s ongoing struggle for civil rights.
I was married three years ago in Washington, DC because it was not legal to do so in my home state. Last year, the legislature in the state of Maryland passed a law making it legal and recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. This incredible achievement was marred by a referendum aimed at overturning the law through the ballot. Fortunately the referendum was defeated by voters in November and effective January 1st same-sex couples are able to marry in the state. In addition to DC, there are now 9 states that perform same-sex marriages. Let’s hope those justices take the President’s words to heart as they take on the Defense of Marriage Act.
As we move forward over the next four years and beyond, I have a renewed sense of hope in the future of our country. I feel the tide of change shifting as more Americans open their hearts and minds to the gay community, welcoming us to the patchwork quilt of diversity that has always been America and makes us stronger. And while I know we still have a long road ahead of us, I recall the words of Dr. King who said, “Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”