In the speech marking the start of his second term, Obama placed the struggle for gay rights squarely in the pantheon of two other defining civil rights movements in American history: those for blacks and women.
“The most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still,” he said. “Just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
The 1848 Seneca Falls, New York, convention was an early women’s rights conference. Selma, Alabama, was the site of a pivotal 1965 civil rights march demanding equality for black Americans. The Stonewall riots of 1969 were protests against a police raid of a New York gay bar and opened the door to gay rights activism.
Obama’s inclusion of gay rights – still opposed by many conservatives – among his list of priorities might have been unthinkably divisive as recently as his first inauguration in 2009.
“It really speaks to how public opinion has evolved on gay rights in the last four years,” said Patrick Egan, a professor of political science at New York University. “You don’t see that kind of change in public opinion happen very often.”