As Russia's laws against homosexual "propaganda" become an increasingly widespread debate topic with the Sochi Olympics encroaching, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to reveal, in no uncertain terms, where he stood on the matter.
Speaking Tuesday night (Jan. 28) for his annual address, Obama said that the United States' identity is in part defined by the respect in the "inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation," per Michael Gold of The Baltimore Sun, and pointed to the Sochi Games as "one expression of that commitment."
The topics, as one would expect, shifted across multiple spectrums in his speech, but Obama's willingness to speak out on the topic—albeit diplomatically—is just the latest measure he has taken to show his disapproval of Russia's prejudicial laws.
In December, Obama selected tennis legend Billie Jean King and former hockey player Caitlin Cahow, both of whom are openly gay, as delegates for the United States for the opening and closing ceremonies.
King, in a special column for CNN, said her goal in accepting the honor was not to disrupt the Olympics but to help foster acceptance:
While I am not planning to protest or demonstrate, I am concerned with the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia and throughout the world. I want the LGBT community living in Russia to know they are not alone and I hope others realize this is not only a gay rights issue, but a global concern for human rights and equality.
The Sochi Games will be the first since 2000 to not feature a prominent member of the presidential cabinet as a delegate. First Lady Michelle Obama was in London for the 2012 Summer Games, and Vice President Joe Biden led the delegation at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Several other civil leaders have also announced they will be skipping the Sochi Games. Last June, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law that banned homosexual "propaganda" from exposure to children.
"We are talking about protecting children from the respective information," Putin said then, per Agence France-Presse (h/t The Telegraph). "We ask that (other countries) do not interfere in our regulation."
Some within the Russian cabinet have even threatened to jail Olympic athletes who are found in violation. Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, who said he believes there are no homosexuals in his city in a BBC interview on Monday, did note the country will not ban gays from attending the Games.
"Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian federation and who doesn't impose their habits and their will on others," Pakhomov said (via ESPN). "But yes, everyone is welcome."
What all this means and how it will be interpreted across the world remains to be seen. It's obvious from his statement that Obama wants the United States to be a figure of positive change. To highlight the country's best athletes—gay or straight—in a way that breeds togetherness internally and perhaps leads the charge in acceptance of alternative lifestyles.
With just a little more than a week remaining until the opening ceremony, the success or failure of that push is imminent.
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