Speaking to a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton last night, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged LGBT lawyers to continue fighting for equality as they build upon the momentum established over the past three years.
"You are – or soon will be – uniquely situated to use the power of the law, as well as your own gifts and knowledge, to help build a more fair, more equal, and more just society," Holder told the audience a the LGBT Bar Association’s annual Lavender Law Conference. "And you have not only the power, but – I believe – the solemn responsibility, to do precisely that: to safeguard the rights and freedoms of everyone in this country, and to carry on the critical but unfinished work that lies ahead."
Holder's speech before the convention of LGBT lawyers signaled the Obama administration's continued commitment to gay rights. As he listed the Obama administration's accomplishments on key gay issues, Holder was interrupted multiple times by applause.
"We can all be proud that, today – for the first time in history – those who courageously serve their country in uniform need no longer hide their sexual orientation," Holder said of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." "We can take pride in the fact that, early last year, President Obama and I directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act."
Holder also noted the Justice Department's continued support for an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would provide protections to LGBT people in all workplaces and an updated Violence Against Women Act that includes provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Thanks to [President Obama's] leadership, this Administration has made historic strides in adopting inclusive policies and sending a clear message that the federal government is 'open for everyone,' and that it is an employer that accepts and respects every potential employee," Holder stated.
Holder, who was first appointed to the bench of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, has been criticized by Republicans since becoming Obama's attorney general.
In June, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives held him in contempt of Congress for withholding documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-walking program.
The Justice Department's decision in February 2011 to not defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids federal recognition of same-sex nuptials, also rankled Republicans. In response, the House created the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which has unsuccessfully argued DOMA's constitutionality in several court cases, some of which have been petitioned to the Supreme Court for consideration.
Despite his controversial tenure, the open support from the nation's most powerful lawyer was well received by conference attendees, who gave his speech a standing ovation.
According to Holder, he and the administration "remain determined to use every available resource to build the necessary institutional and legal frameworks to end harassment, violence, and discrimination – and to provide the safeguards that, for LGBT Americans, my fellow citizens, are long overdue."
WATCH Holder's full speech at the Lavender Law Conference here: