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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

Obama 2.0: What a Difference Four Years Make!

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On election night in November 2008, I stood with leaders of the "No on Prop 8" campaign at a rally in Los Angeles and listened to Barack Obama give his victory speech from Chicago. Together we heard him say:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. ... It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled -- Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It was a historic moment, not only because we had just elected the first African-American president but because we heard for the first time from a president-elect who intentionally included "gay" in his list of "all" when he spoke about "liberty and justice for all." And as quickly as our hearts soared at those powerful words, they sank as the "Yes on 8" polling numbers rose. And so we stood together in an awful tension between elation at the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States and devastation as a bare majority of Californians wrote discrimination into our state constitution.

What a difference four years make.

On election night in 2012 I sat with friends in Santa Monica and listened to Barack Obama give another victory speech from Chicago. Together we heard him say:

It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try.

It was another historic moment. This time those words came from a sitting president who hadn't just talked about liberty and justice for LGBT Americans; he'd acted on it. In the previous four years he'd repealed "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT), opposed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and "evolved" on marriage equality. And on this election night, in stark contrast to feeling our hearts sink as Prop 8 took rights away from same-sex couples in 2008, we celebrated as Wisconsin elected the first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin, and we won marriage equality at the ballot box in Maine and Maryland while Minnesotans defeated a discriminatory amendment.

What a difference four years make.

I came for the hope Obama offered in 2008, and I stayed for the record he delivered in 2012. My older son is home from the war in Iraq that Obama ended; my younger son is off unemployment and fully employed in the auto industry that Obama didn't let collapse; and when my wife had a recurrence of cancer, she had health insurance in spite of her "preexisting condition" because Obama gave us the Affordable Care Act. Not to even mention the fact that when Obama says he'll fight for your family, he means all our families -- including LGBT families.

Yes, there is more work to do. Yes, we have miles to go before liberty and justice for all becomes not just a pledge we make but a reality we live. But today we celebrate the reelection of a president who has not only given us change we can believe in but who has given us progress to take heart in. And that, my friends, is something to rejoice and be glad in!