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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

Eyewitness to History: From the 'Amen Corner' in the East Room

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I got to watch history happen this morning.

I got to sit in the East Room of the White House with about 200 other invited guests and boatload of reporters and watch the President of the United States sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Order also ensures that federal employees - who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation - will now formally be protected from discrimination based on gender identity as well.

From the White House transcript of the President's remarks:

10:39 A.M. EDT | THE PRESIDENT: Welcome to the White House, everybody. I know I'm a little late. But that's okay because we've got some big business to do here.

Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming. You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters -- I know because I got a lot of them. (Laughter.) And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government -- government of the people, by the people, and for the people -- will become just a little bit fairer.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amen. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Amen. Amen. (Applause.) Got the "amen" corner here. (Laughter.)

Yes. That was me. I just couldn't help myself.

In the reception room before the signing ceremony began, some of us were reminiscing about the road we've travelled together to get to this day. Fighting off the "Federal Marriage Amendment" during the Bush administration. Lobbying on Hate Crimes, Don't Ask/Don't Tell, working to overturn DOMA - and in California, Prop 8 ... just to name a few. It has been a journey. And it's far from over.

A wise mentor of mine taught us to not only set audacious goals but to remember to celebrate incremental victories. The audacious goal is making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live. And today the incremental victory was a more secure workplace for approximately 20% of the American workforce.

And I think that deserves an Amen. I thought so in the East Room of the White House and I think so now.

I also think it deserves a few minutes to pause and reflect on how far we've come -- and to give thanks for all those who have helped bring us to this point. And then I think it deserves - no, it requires -- our best, redoubled efforts to get back to work and make sure we keep taking steps forward - not back -toward that audacious goal.

Because here's the deal. Equal protection isn't equal protection unless it protects all Americans equally. And we cannot allow the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion to be perverted in an effort to undermine the equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth.

As President Obama said today: "For more than two centuries, we have strived, often at great cost, to form "a more perfect union" -- to make sure that "we, the people" applies to all the people. Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us. And we've got a responsibility to do the same for future generations. We've got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love -- no matter what, you can make it in this country."

Can I get an "Amen"?