Publication Details

O'Donnell, M. (2013). Obama inauguration speech: a historic moment for gay and lesbian equality. The Conversation, (22 January)

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The Conversation


Much has been made of the fact President Obama became the first president to mention the word gay in an inaugural address.

But the significance lies not in what he said but how he said it.

In declaring, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” Obama not only declared himself abstractly for “gay rights”, he placed these rights at the heart of the central ideals of the American story.

Obama’s whole speech sprung from his reiteration of the much sung hymn to equality from the Declaration of Independence which he quoted at the start of his speech:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

Presidents and other American orators are fond of quoting this lodestone of the American dream, so it is not surprise that Obama should refer to it.

But his speech was much more telling because he made clear that he took those words as a call to action:

For history tells us that while these truths maybe self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.