US: Obama State of the Union speech calls out to gay service members

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Barack Obama gave the annual Presidential State of the Union address last night (Tuesday), and followed in the wake of his groundbreaking inauguration speech by bringing up LGBT rights in front of guests that included same-sex couples.

Mr Obama spoke of the “American dream” of achieving greatness through hard work, and alluded that it should be available to LGBT Americans as much as anyone else.

He said: “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”

While the speech focused on issues within the economy, such as plans to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, Mr Obama took the opportunity to give his backing to military reforms for gay service members.

“We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight,” he said.

The Pentagon confirmed this week that some military benefits would be extended to same-sex couples.

Mr Obama went on to urge the House of Representatives to renew the Violence Against Women Act, which now includes provisions to protect gay men and lesbians from domestic abuse.

The guests of the First Family and Democratic Representatives at the address reflected some of the LGBT issues Mr Obama has supported recently.

Representative Jerrold Nadler invited partners Kelly Costello and Fabiola Morales, whose situation reflects Mr Obama’s calls for immigration reforms to protect binational same-sex couples.

Although the two women are married and expecting a child, Ms Morales will have to leave the US when her student visa expires under the law as it currently stands.

First Lady Michelle Obama sat with Tracey Hepner, co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition and wife of the US Army’s first openly gay general, Brigadier General Tammy Smith. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2011 allowed gay people to serve openly.

In his inauguration speech in January, Mr Obama said: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”