Gay Rights: The LGBT Community Has Thrived Under Obama


The LGBTQ community has much to celebrate this political season. Starting with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and stretching back to the passing of the Matthew Shepard Act, the LGBTQ community has found Obama to be a supportive friend in the White House. Now Obama has shown once again his support of the LGBTQ community by nominating William Thomas, a black and openly gay Florida court judge, to a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Advocate reported that if confirmed Thomas would be the first openly "gay black man to be a life-tenured federal judge." Thomas is one of three LGBTQ judicial nominees reported to be waiting for confirmation. "Pamela Ki Mai Chen, an out lesbian nominated this summer to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and Judge Michael McShane, an out judge nominated in September to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon" are the other two, according to Buzzfeed.

The first openly gay federal judge was Deborah Batts, appointed by President Clinton to serve the Southern District of New York. Buzzfeed noted that Judge Batts, a Black lesbian, took “senior status” i.e. “near retirement, earlier this year.” Buzzfeed also noted that Obama has nominated "seven out lawyers for lifetime-tenured federal judgeships, three of whom already have been approved by the Senate."

The LGBTQ community is one of the strongest components of the coalition that reelected Obama to office. The community counted as victories, the election of Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), to be the first openly gay senator, and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) as the first openly bisexual congresswoman. Tammy Baldwin was succeeded in Wisconsin by Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.).  

The openly gay Pocan will represent Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District. Joining Pocan in the 113th Congress will be Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the first non-white, openly gay member of Congress. Takano is a Japanese-American that was elected to serve California’s 41st congressional district.

The newly elected officials will join Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Polis was reelected to serve in Congress by the 2nd congressional district of Colorado. Polis was first elected in 2008, and became the first openly gay parent in Congress. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the first congressional LGBTQ member to voluntarily come out, is retiring at the end of the 112th session.

The LGBTQ community also scored civil rights victories this election season. Three states, Maryland, Maine, and Washington passed same sex marriage ballot initiatives and a state constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage was defeated in Minnesota. The Atlantic wrote, “This was the first time the electorate of any state voted same-sex marriage into law, and the first time voters rejected an attempt to legally define marriage as between one man and one woman.” 

Marriage equality supporters feel strongly that the ballot victories coupled with the successful court ruling to repeal California’s Proposition 8 represent a growing trend towards tolerance for the civil rights of same sex couples. Mother Jones noted thatif the Defense of Marriage Act is heard by the Supreme Court, these ballot victories could persuade the justices “that this is a cause whose time has come.”

None of these victories could have been secured without the support and weight of Obama’s position on gay civil rights. Earlier this year Tina Brown of Newsweek declared Obama to be America’s “first gay president” and put him on the cover of the magazine with a rainbow-colored “gaylo.”

She did so after Obama reversed his position and came out in support of marriage equality. Brown explained her decision to Politico by saying, “Newsweek’s cover pays tribute to his newly ordained place in history.”  The accompanying piece, “The First Gay President,” was written by openly gay and fierce Obama supporter, blogger Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan notes that Obama’s relationship with the LGBTQ community is borne of both political necessity and a change or evolution in his personal opinion toward gay civil rights. Sullivan said “I have always sensed that he intuitively understands gays.”

Sullivan pointed out that it was Obama’s Justice Department that decided to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act and to actively oppose it. Sullivan wrote the "lawyers in the Proposition 8 case in California claimed this as a 'material' or legally significant development." It was Obama who came out for marriage equality immediately after North Carolina implemented a state constitutional ban on same sex marriage, a politically risky move because it could have alienated members of his strongest base, black ministers. It was Obama who lifted the 22 year old HIV travel ban. ABC News said the initiative to remove the travel ban, which was begun under the George H.W. Bush administration, was hailed as a “victory” by “public health and human rights advocates.”

Buzzfeed reported that Obama made the following statement regarding the nomination of Thomas, Chen, and McShane, "These individuals have demonstrated the talent, expertise, and fair-mindedness Americans expect and deserve from their judicial system. They represent my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”