President Barack Obama has no illusions over what he has delivered when it comes to LGBT rights.
In an interview with Time for the magazine's annual "Person of the Year," Obama said progress made on LGBT rights is one of his proudest accomplishments of his first term. Noting a demographic shift in society that contributed to his re-election, Obama attributed generational divides to shifting views on LGBT issues.
One of the things that I'm very proud of during my first four years is I think I've helped to solidify this incredibly rapid transformation in people's attitudes around LGBT issues — how we think about gays and lesbians and transgender persons. A lot of that just has to do with the fact that if you talk to Malia, the idea of making an anti-gay remark at her school is just unimaginable. They just don't get that.
And so, there are those attitudinal shifts that make up this new coalition as well. For all the divisions that you read about in our politics — and many of them are real and powerful — the truth is, is that we have steadily become a more diverse and tolerant country that embraces people's differences, and respects people who are not like us. And that's a profoundly good thing. That's one of the strengths of America. It was hard-fought. And there's been the occasional backlash, and this is not to argue that somehow racism or sexism or homophobia are going to be eliminated or ever will be eliminated. It is to argue that our norms have changed in a way that prizes inclusion more than exclusion.
And I do think that my eight years as President, reflecting those values and giving voice to those values, helps to validate or solidify that transformation, and I think that's a good thing for the country. And, by the way, it's part of what will make America a continued leader of the 21st century — because the world is shrinking, and one of our greatest assets is the fact that we have people from everywhere who want to come here because they know this is an open society, and they know that they will be judged more on their talents and their skills and their commitment to an ideal and a creed, as opposed to what tribe they come from or what God they worship. And that’s something that we should be grateful for.
Obama enjoyed overwhelming support among LGBT Americans in the 2012 election, largely credited to his decision in May to openly endorse the right of same-sex couples and the successful repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In February 2011, the Obama administration also stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, arguing that the 1996 law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Obama's mention of "transgender persons" appears particularly significant as groups like OutServe-SLDN seek open service for trangender members of the military.
Advocates continue to press Obama on other issues, however, including an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And with DOMA now before the Supreme Court, advocates have questioned whether the White House will take a public stance on the other marriage case before the high court.
Although Obama has said he opposed California's decision to amend the state's constitution in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage after already granting that right to same-sex couples, the White House has refused to say where it stand on the broader questions raised by the case challenging California’s Proposition 8. Asked by Metro Weekly on Dec. 11, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the administration's stance on the Proposition 8 case nor if it believes the Constitution protects the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Carney also did not comment on Obama's reaction to the Supreme Court taking up the two cases.
In his interview with Time, which was conducted the day after that briefing, Obama said his administration was looking at the cases, but again declined to weigh in.
"We are looking at the cases right now," Obama said. "I've already been very clear about DOMA, so there is no doubt that we would continue the position we're on, that DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down. And I think the Prop-8 case, because the briefs are still being written, I should probably be careful about making any specific comments on it."
[Photo: Time magazine cover (Courtesy of Time.com).]