WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama pushed for protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals Tuesday evening, making it the first time lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have ever been recognized directly in a State of the Union address.
"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," said Obama, adding, "That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."
Obama declared marriage to be a "civil right" Tuesday night as well, just days after the Supreme Court announced it would take up the issue of marriage equality. This spring, it could finally rule whether it's unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from getting married.
"I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home," said Obama.
Obama, who came out in support of same-sex marriage in May 2012, also tied gay rights to the civil rights fight in his second inaugural address. He said it was "our generation's task" to carry on what was begun at Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall -- centers of the fight for women's rights, African-American rights and LGBT rights, respectively.
"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," he said.
Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California, was thrilled with the inclusion in Tuesday's speech.
"I listened to the State of the Union with bated breath. President Obama's public recognition of transgender people in his State of the Union address was historic," he told The Huffington Post. "It is time for the American public to become aware of our stories and struggles both at home and around the globe."
"It is very heartening that President Obama has chosen to speak up for transgender people in a State of the Union Speech about American values," National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling added in a statement. "While other years, he has focused on a laundry lists of policies, mention there would have been important. In those years when we were not mentioned in the State of the Union, the President was still leading the way in advancing policies that have improved and saved transgender lives."
Last year, Obama took a number of steps to ban discrimination against the LGBT community, in particular transgender Americans. In July, he signed an executive order making it illegal to fire or harass employees of federal contractors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The order also explicitly banned discrimination against transgender employees of the federal government.
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