President Barack Obama went on ABC and came out in favor of letting same-sex couples get married on Wednesday May 9th. This groundbreaking step for equality and human rights was unfortunately overshadowed by activists on both sides of the issue. The reaction from the social conservative “pro-family” groups probably didn’t surprise anyone. There will always be people who try to oppose progress and change in the name of traditional family values, but their numbers are dwindling and society will progress despite them. The most surprising reaction to this news came from those who support gay rights.
On May 13 Yahoo News reported that Newsweek‘s May 21 cover declares Obama “The first gay president.” The New Yorker was slightly more subtle with their May 21 cover featuring a drawing of the White House with rainbow-colored columns. President Obama’s declaration that he personally believes that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married is an important step to fully assimilate people of all sexual orientations into mainstream society, but there are much more concrete concerns regarding gay rights. There are still 20 states which do not have hate crime laws to protect people who are victimized because of their sexual orientation. In 29 states sexual orientation is not protected under employment discrimination laws. Schools all over the country are taking steps to end bullying in school and to protect those who are physically and emotionally abused, but only 20 states have created protections for kids who are targeted for bullying because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.
The current President’s support for marriage equality is a symbolic victory for gay rights the same way his election was a symbolic victory for the status of race relations in America. Both events are indicative of how far The United States has progressed as a whole, but do very little to address the current problems. Just because Barack Obama was able to win the 2008 election, it doesn’t mean that racism has disappeared. There are still many people who don’t feel like they have to treat everyone else as equals, but it was a very important step. People who really support equality need to reject all these symbolic victories.