A historic, personal “evolution” occurred Wednesday when President Obama became the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality. Civil rights, civil liberties and human rights converged when Obama gave his thoughtful and ringing endorsement of same-sex marriage.

President Obama. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word marriage evokes very powerful traditions,” Obama said. Though certainly not a uniform voting block, a significant percentage of African Americans, socially conservative and steeped in the church, have bristled at the concept of same-sex marriage.

Though profound and historic, Obama’s words need legal force to ensure equality for same-sex couples. Signing an executive order that would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians among federal contractors would cement Obama’s courageous steps toward justice and equality, while sending a strong message to the public and private sector that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated.

Furthermore, just as President Lyndon Johnson became a champion of civil rights for African Americans with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Obama could become a champion of LGBT rights by endorsing legislation or signing an executive order that would forbid states fromdiscriminating against LGBT couples. Marriage equality should be enshrined in our U.S. Constitution, which would take congressional action and public will and support. Obama can’t do it alone.

The Democrats and Obama should now capitalize on the increasing public support for same-sex marriage by taking the bold move of making marriage equality part of the Democratic presidential platform. This would send a clear and resounding message against “separate-but-equal” treatment of same-sex couples.

It will take federal and executive intervention to keep states like North Carolina from denying LGBT couples important entitlements such as Medicaid, Social Security, tax breaks and federal retirements benefits. It is of further significance that Obama, an African American, can serve as a bridge of understanding who could encourage greater tolerance in the black community — which highly regards the president — on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Obama’s action is historic on many levels. He should now give his public endorsement of marriage equality the legal weight, force and legitimacy of executive orders and party platform recognition.

Joy Freeman-Coulbary, a Washingtonian, is a pacifist, lawyer and blogger. You can reach her at freemancoulbary@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @enJOYJFC.

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