Monday, almost 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. revealed his dream for progress on equality, President Obama invoked the word "gay" during his inaugural address, a first for any president.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," he said. "For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
Obama's remarks included a reference to the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots in New York that sparked the gay-rights movement, and grouped the struggle with those endured by American women and blacks. "Instead of it being just another interest group, it's now in the American grain along with civil rights and women's rights," writer Jonathan Alter told MSNBC's Ed Schultz. The linear acknowledgement of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders and their pursuit of happiness in this forum was an unprecedented rallying call from a president who, just nine months ago, was compelled to publicly address his own evolution on marriage equality.
Obama's use of the word also represents the gradual societal advancement for a nation that still denies federal benefits to its LGBT citizens under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, both enacted by President Bill Clinton during his first term. But what should receive equal coverage of Monday's address is another phrase Obama used, as if to qualify "our gay brothers and sisters": the subtle clause he included, "under the law," deserves scrutiny. For "the law," as it stands, denies our gay brothers and sisters basic rights straight couples have long enjoyed.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a heartbreaking front-page report on the federal treatment toward spouses of gay troops. Because same-sex marriage does not apply under federal law -- it is left to the states to decide -- spouses are barred from attending military retreats, accessing hospitals, entering movie theaters and much more.
In March, the Supreme Court will decide whether marriage equality should fall to the federal or state governments, regarding the constitutionality of DOMA and California's Proposition 8. No matter the outcome this summer, will Obama pursue federal legislation to protect the rights of all Americans? Will he fight for marriage equality as a human issue, rather than one defined by borders, before he leaves Washington in 2017?
Stonewall still stands.