It was a faith-infused event that recognized both the original sins as well as the later atonements of America’s history, especially on race, which was front and center as the nation’s first African-American president took the oath on the holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And Obama and other speakers vividly traced the nation’s tortuous path from slavery to civil rights — from the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago, the latter presided over by King.
Yet Obama also declared that this tumultuous past was not an occasion for despair; rather, he said, it should inspire Americans to renew a joint pilgrimage that would never be finished but must always be carried forward as each generation adapts to new challenges, whether on the economy or identity.
“For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” Obama told hundreds of thousands of cheering onlookers gathered on a chilly day on the Mall in front of the Capitol.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he added, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
The president also included immigrants and the working classes in his vision of a future American equality. But his inclusion of gay rights was especially pointed in that the first pastor he chose to deliver the day’s benediction — the Rev. Louie Giglio, a prominent evangelical — was forced to step aside earlier this month after anti-gay remarks he made in the 1990s surfaced.
Giglio was replaced by the Rev. Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House.
The Episcopal Church as a denomination welcomes gay clergy and couples, and in his closing prayer on Monday, Leon asked that God allow Americans to see each other as a reflection of the divine image, “whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation or immigrant American, or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor.”
Preceding Leon was another Latino, and a gay man, poet Richard Blanco, whose presence further underscored the shifts in public acceptance of gays and lesbians as well as the president’s increasing embrace of gay equality.