I read an article recently on President Obama’s growing public support of the gay marriage and I was struck by the similarities between his involvement in the gay rights movement and President Kennedy’s involvement in the civil rights movement. They followed similar paths that resulted in the same outcome.
The two Presidents were pressured by displays of public support of their respective movements. President Kennedy did not initially support the march on Washington because he feared that the march would hurt the upcoming civil rights bill’s chances in Congress. He did work with the leaders of the march to ensure that it would positively influence the bill. President Obama also initially avoided federal support of gay marriage because he said it was a matter for the local level. The gay rights movement, however, has become more and more present in the media. Many celebrities, such as Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen Degeneres, and Kelly McGillis, have come out to the public which has inspired others to do the same or express their support for LGBT people. There also campaigns such as the Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project that have increased awareness and support of the movement. Such public displays in support of the gay rights movement has influenced President Obama’s campaign tactics.
Despite trying to avoid public support of sensitive issues, both presidents ultimately expressed public support for both of their causes on national television. President Kennedy said, “Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.” It is interesting that President Obama uses the same foundational argument of equality because he sees that the our nation has still not fulfilled its promise to its gay citizens. Using similar language, he said in his inauguration speech, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” President Obama's administration is even "urging the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act." Two presidents, fifty years apart, were (and are) fighting for equal rights. They were the most outspoken Presidents for their respective movements, but could that be because they are both minorities? President Kennedy was criticized for being Catholic just as President Obama was (and is) criticized for being African-American. It took minority Presidents to publicly and boldly fight for minority rights. I feel like this is because it took someone who experienced prejudice to be able to fight the prejudice being placed upon someone else.
In one of our readings, we saw that Robert Kennedy said that he foresaw the United States having a black President within the next forty years; his prediction was not far off. With the strides that are being made in the gay rights movement by President Obama, I wonder if we could have a gay President within the next forty-some-odd years. If we do, will our gay President make strides for equal rights for another minority group?