Thursday, March 7, 2013

Obama/Kennedy 2016

           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?  


  1. As a former Eagle Scout, I for one am disgusted by the Boy Scouts of America's stance on refusing openly gay men to join the Boy Scouts. Two months ago, I sent them a letter saying that I was turning in my Eagle Scout badge and refused to associate myself with them until this ban was lifted.

    As you mentioned, Obama has taken a strong stance on gay rights, and just this past month, explicitly stated that the BSA should lift this ban. I quote, "My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life. The Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives. And I think nobody should be barred from that."

    It is reassuring to hear that Obama supports true equality regardless of sexual preference not only under the legal system, but also in private organizations as well, and that he is not afraid to let organizations know what they should do in this regard.

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  3. If we were to have a gay President within the next forty or so years, I would like to believe that (s)he would put forth an effort to aid another minority group. It would make sense, to say the least, that a person whom people were prejudiced against for their sexual preferences would attempt to "make strides for another minority group." In the movie "Milk", Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office, said, "I'm a homosexual with power...that's scary." The fear of this could be the effect of an elected gay person's actions on those who do not share the same views. There will always be people who disagree on the rights of minorities, whether they are minorities in terms of race, economic status, or sexual preference. However, everybody-gay, straight, black, white, rich, poor, etc-is entitled to equal rights. If some time in the next forty years we have a gay President, I hope (s)he will go to great lengths to ensure equality for all people.

  4. It would be interesting to try and determine how much of President Obama’s decision to focus on gay rights has been out of political pressure or out of a personal decision. As you stated in your entry, the President originally avoided public support of gay marriage. His May 2012 announcement was a major news story as it made him the first sitting president to publicly support gay marriage. I would definitely like to think that President Obama evolved his views on a moral decision rather than a strategic one.
    In response to your question, I think that a gay president is certainly possible within the next forty years. This year Tammy Baldwin was the first openly gay Senator elected, and I think that demonstrates that the general public is becoming more open not only to homosexual leadership but also to electing “minorities” in politics; women, African-Americans, etc.
    My other hope is to see a female president, but even more, I hope for a future in which this won’t matter. Instead of describing President Obama as the first black president, or Hilary Clinton as a hopeful to be the first female president, I hope that they will be judged “not on the color of their skin” (or their gender or sexuality) “but on the quality of their character”.