Speaking in Sweden Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made perhaps the strongest statement of his career at the Justice Department in favor of expanding LGBT rights. The call for an international fight against discrimination happens days before the Olympics are set to start in Sochi, where LGBT rights are likely to be a recurring theme.
"Just as our forebears came together to overcome tremendous adversity -- and to forge the more just and more equal societies in which we now live -- so, too, must the current generation rise to the causes that have become the struggles of our day; the defining civil rights challenges of our time," he said. "I believe one of these struggles is the fight for equality for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender -- or LGBT -- citizens."
Holder's stop at the Swedish Parliament is part of a European tour that served the bookends to a conference in Poland last Thursday. He praised Swedish lawmakers for legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009 -- by an overwhelming margin -- making Sweden the seventh country to do so. "You've freed countless people to achieve whatever their dreams, their talents, and their own hard work will allow," Holder said, "without fear of discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, age, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. By becoming the seventh nation in the world to extend the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples, you've stabilized families and expanded individual liberty."
This speech comes three years after the Justice Department announced it wouldn't defend cases involving the Defense of Marriage Act in court, The Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional last year, which Holder also mentioned in his speech Tuesday: "This marked a major victory for the cause of equal protection under U.S. law, and a significant step forward for committed and loving couples throughout the country." Holder also mentioned the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy against gays serving openly in the military and the protections for LGBT domestic violence victims added to the Violence Against Women Act as other successes of the Obama administration on this issue. Earlier in January, Holder announced that same-sex marriages in Utah -- which are not recognized by state officials despite an overturned ban -- were still legal under federal law.
Holder also mentioned other civil rights problems in his address -- human trafficking, gender, economic and racial discrimination -- as well as Sweden's efforts in trying to eradicate them.
When Obama visited Sweden last September, he also mentioned gay rights, but did not build his remarks around the issue as Holder did Tuesday. He said the two countries shared a belief that "our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters must be treated equally under the law; that our societies are strengthened and not weakened by diversity." Obama echoed this sentiment in last week's State of the Union -- while tying the issue to next week's Olympic Games, where LGBT issues have been in the foreground since Russia was announced as the host.