Thank you for joining me here to celebrate Pride Month!
In his June 1st proclamation, President Obama reiterated the U.S. commitment to ensuring equal rights for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community throughout the world. We are not truly equal until every person is afforded the same rights and opportunities — that when one of us experiences discrimination, it affects all of us. This is an issue whose time has come.
When she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton poignantly stated: “Gay rights are human rights”. Defending and promoting the civil rights of all LGBT persons is at the core of the U.S. commitment to advance human rights globally — it is at the heart and conscience not only of our diplomacy, but our values as a people.
Pride month is a time to recognize courage, which comes in a lot of forms. There is courage in battle, but there is also courage in fighting for ideals. It applies to the soldier and applies equally to young boys or girls struggling with their own identity who find the strength to be true to who they are. (1)
In the words of President Obama, Pride month celebrates the progress we have made, but it is also about pride in who we are as a nation.
I commend Portugal for not only its commitment to tolerance but for its leadership on issues like gay marriage. Five years ago this month — in June of 2010 — Portugal became only the eighth country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Portuguese government, in 2013, also granted asylum to two Ugandan nationals who were persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation. This demonstrates the compassion and understanding of the Portuguese people. And at noon today, the Portugal Parliament will vote on legislation establishing National Anti-homophobia Day, to be celebrated on May 17 annually.
The issue of same sex marriage remains a controversial one in my country. Any day now our United States Supreme Court will decide an important case on whether our constitution grants same-sex couples the right to marry. No matter how that case is decided, the fact is we have made significant progress in our quest to achieve, in the words of our Declaration of Independence, “a more perfect Union.” When President Obama took office same-sex marriage was legal in only two states. Today, it is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
And we have made progress in another important area as well. For far too long, Gay and Lesbian members of the military, and their partners and their families, were forced by law to compromise the very values the military stands for — integrity, courage, dedication and respect — because they were required to hide who they loved in order to serve the country they loved. Today we celebrate the fact that the policy which required gay members of the military to live a lie is over. In 2011, we took pride in the fact that President Obama ended the U.S. military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Our world is big and diverse. We have people of different backgrounds and beliefs. We have different experiences and stories. But in America and in Portugal we are bound together by a simple, common ideal — that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, what you believe, or who you love, you have the right to be true to yourself and live in dignity. (2)
Protecting equal rights for members of the LGBT community is simply the right thing to do.
I think Judge Michael McShane said it best in his ruling declaring Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional: At times it is difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate, but if we can ignore the “barking crowds”, and “look for a moment past issues of gender and sexuality, we see in these plaintiffs, nothing more or less than our own families.” (3)
In closing, I am struck by the fact that the last time I participated in the flying of a special flag on this pole, it was the 48 star American flag that my father carried home from Europe at the conclusion of WW II.
Like so many people before him, and after him, what my father fought to defend are the very freedoms embodied in the Pride Flag, that in a minute will take its rightful place under the Stars and Stripes.
Thank you. God Bless America and God Bless Portugal.
(1) Discurso do Presidente Obama na recepção do Mês do Orgulho LGBT, 24 de Junho de 2015
(3) Discurso do Sub-Secretário da Defesa Robert Work na cerimónia do Mês do Orgulho LGBT, 5 de Junho de 2014