U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday touted the progress that the LGBT movement has made in recent years, saying it had passed a turning point in public perception. Obama, who was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi while speaking in a crowded East Room of the White House for Pride Month, reveled in the strides that had been made in just the last six and a half years since he has been president.
“When I became president, same-sex marriage was legal in only two states. Today it’s legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia” he said to cheers from the crowd. "This is something where it’s bearing fruit today, but it has to do with courage that was happening in obscurity and incredible difficulty, and I am so honored to be a part of seeing all that hard work pay off."
Obama listed several victories for the LGBT community in his speech, from the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policies in the U.S. military, to expanded rights for LGBT people in hospitals, to the repeal of a central pillar of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 that provided full federal recognition for same-sex couples who are legally married. Obama said he was well aware of the Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage expected later this month.
“There are a few decisions coming down in these next few days that I’m paying close attention to,” he quipped, referring to both the gay marriage rulings and an expected ruling on his signature healthcare law. “But, however the decision comes down on the marriage issue, one thing’s undeniable: There has been this incredible shift in attitudes across the country.”
Obama was speaking to more than just public perception of the LGBT community.
“A decade ago politicians ran against LGBT rights, today they’re running towards them,” Obama said. “They’ve learned what the rest of the country knows, that marriage equality is about our civil rights and our firm belief that every citizen must be treated equally under the law.” Obama notably shifted his stance during that time too. In 2008 he said that he was not in favor of gay marriage, a stance he said had "evolved" when he announced his support of the unions in 2012.
If the Supreme Court decides to expand equal rights and establish a constitutional right for gay couples to be married throughout the country, it would be a significant victory in the marriage equality drive that saw its first state-win just 11 years ago when Massachusetts legalized the unions.
Earlier on Wednesday, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Greenwich Village location where the 1969 Stonewall Riots began as a historic landmark, making it the city's first landmark recognized for its connection to the LGBT community.
Those in attendance Wednesday in the East Room were very welcoming to the president, though one heckler interrupted his speech early on, calling on the president to stop deporting people from the country -- a subject he later addressed when mentioning that individuals in the country should have a pathway to legal status.