Byline: Paul Begala
But will he deliver?
When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the March on Washington in 1963, he used an interesting metaphor. He called "the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence ... a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir." King said he and the hundreds of thousands gathered on the Mall were there "to cash a check."
In his second inaugural address, on the day we honor Dr. King, President Obama issued a promissory note of his own. "Our journey is not complete," he declared without equivocation or reservation, "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."
Our president linked Stonewall with Selma and Seneca Falls as latter-day Lexingtons and Concords in the battle for full equality for all Americans. The Stonewall Inn was a New York gay bar. On June 28, 1969, it was raided by the police, enforcing a law that prohibited liquor licenses for bars with a gay clientele. This had happened before; gay Americans were routinely humiliated and incarcerated. But this time they fought back. The riot was a seminal moment in the history of gay rights. So for the president to link it to Selma, where the heroic John Lewis and others were savagely beaten, and Seneca Falls, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and other pioneers of the women's-rights movement dared to declare their equality, is both historic and heartening.
But almost before his words had finished resonating across the National Mall, his press secretary was walking them back. The president, he told reporters, personally supports gay marriage. But the legality of gay marriage itself? "That's something that should be addressed by the states." Of course, states determined the legality of interracial marriage for decades, and so the marriage of the president's parents was illegal in 19 states. We rightly look back at that time with horror, just as our children will look back on today, when 30 states have enshrined discrimination against gays into their constitutions.
To be fair, it takes time to move our massive government. But gay-rights activists are looking for quick movement on many fronts, for there is much our president must do to honor his new promissory note:
Join the lawsuit against Proposition 8. …