Stone: The Speech Obama Should Make at the Human Rights Campaign Conference

Profiles in Courage: JFK and Barack Obama
Geoffrey R. Stone
The Huffington Post
October 7, 2009

On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made a momentous civil rights address to the nation. This speech was a pivotal turning point in race relations in the United States. Had Kennedy not had the courage to make that speech, American history would have been different and, quite possibly, Barack Obama would not be President of the United States today.

Below is the speech I would like to hear President Obama make on Saturday, October 10, when he addresses the national meeting of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest lesbian and gay civil rights organization in the nation. It is a virtually verbatim version of President Kennedy's 1963 speech, but substituting sexual orientation for race.

Good evening, my fellow citizens:

This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, we should not deny loyal Americans the right the serve their country. It ought to be possible for Americans of every race, gender, ethnic origin, and sexual orientation to serve in the military, to receive equal treatment in the workplace, to be free from hate crimes, and to marry the person he loves.

It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his or her race, gender, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case in America today.

This is not a sectional issue. Nor is this a partisan issue. Nor is this a religious issue. Men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics or religion. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. New laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because of her sexual orientation, cannot work in a factory, if she cannot visit her life-partner in a hospital, if she cannot serve in the military, if, in short, she cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have her sexual orientation changed and stand in her place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay? This Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

Faculty: 
Geoffrey R. Stone