WASHINGTON — President Obama addressed the graduates of the all-male, historically black Morehouse College on Sunday, sharing with them his views about what it meant to be a good man — a vision that included gay men.
Obama told the graduates, “Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend, or your partner.” The line was powerful and immediately noticed by the students, who stirred, leading the president to raise a finger and seek silence. Once the audience quieted, he added, “Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.”
The words, spoken by the first black president to an overwhelmingly male and black audience at a school that prides itself on its history and understanding of black masculinity, answered an era of unfair stereotypes in the negative.
Obama later went on to tell the graduates of Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater that the “sting of discrimination” that many of them have felt was shared by “gay and lesbian Americans,” who feel that sting “when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share.”
What’s more, the line that stirred the crowd wasn’t even supposed to be as strident as Obama made it. In the prepared remarks released by the White House before Obama gave the speech, the line as written was, “Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be.”
The slight change, about which the White House gave no comment, made explicit what had been written as, perhaps, a veiled reference to gay relationships. Directed at the male graduates, Obama referenced “your boyfriend.” In the prepared remarks, only “your wife” and “your partner” — a gender-neutral wording — were mentioned.
Although the White House had no comment about the changed language, Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz told BuzzFeed the change was “slight but meaningful,” adding, “And in a larger sense, it is wonderful that in such an important speech President Obama recognizes and validates various family structures.”