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February 03 , 2011

Don't Tell Me to Wait

How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama's Presidency


As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama distanced himself from same-sex marriage, saying he believed marriage was “a sacred union” between a man and a woman. In 2012, he did just the opposite, proclaiming it was “important” for him to affirm the right of same-sex couples to marry. This dramatic about-face put the most powerful man in the world at the front of the battle for gay rights, giving LGBT Americans and their advocates an invaluable ally in their struggle for freedom. Just one year later, the Supreme Court would strike down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, and no Democratic presidential nominee would ever again shun marriage equality.
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As former Advocate journalist Kerry Eleveld shows, Obama’s support transformed the issue of gay rights from a political liability into an electoral imperative, and in Don't Tell Me to Wait she offers a boots-on-the-ground account of how gay rights activists pushed the president to this political tipping point. Obama’s “evolution” on marriage equality was not the result of a benevolent politician who entered the Oval Office with a wealth of good intentions. Rather, pressure from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists changed the conversation, issue by issue. As a result of the protests and outcry following the passage of California’s same-sex marriage ban, Obama realized that overturning the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was the one 2008 campaign promise he couldn’t ignore. While pledges to other progressive constituencies fell apart during Obama’s first two years in office, the LGBT rights movement protested the administration’s fecklessness early and often. By the time the sun set on the 111th Congress, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal had become the sole piece of major progressive legislation to become law. The repeal’s overwhelming success and popularity paved the way for other LGBT advances, including the president’s eventual embrace of the freedom to marry.

With unprecedented access and unparalleled insights into this hot-button issue, Don't Tell Me to Wait captures a critical moment in LGBT history and demonstrates the power of activism to change the course of a presidency—and a nation.
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