With the Supreme Court poised to take up two cases that could determine the future of gay marriage, supporters of its legalization are hailing President Barack Obama's second inaugural address as a watershed moment, as he once again publicly embraced support for legal unions between gay couples.
Obama, outlining his vision of civil rights work left to be done, included gay rights in a list alongside gender wage discrimination and voting rights.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," he said. "For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said by connecting the struggle of gay couple to the equal rights movement writ large, Obama "made history."
"By lifting up the lives of LGBT families for the very first time in an inaugural address, President Obama sent a clear message to LGBT young people from the Gulf Coast to the Rocky Mountains that this country's leaders will fight for them until equality is the law of the land," Griffin said in a release.
But Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which has led campaigns against legalizing same-sex marriage, said gay couples are "already treated equally under the law."
"They have the same civil rights as anyone else; they have the right to live as they wish and love whom they choose," he said in a release. "What they don't have is the right to redefine marriage for all of society."
Obama should have avoided using the inaugural address to "voice his support for a radical agenda advanced by some of his biggest campaign contributors," Brown added.
The president's high-profile remarks do come at a critical time for both sides of the argument, as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in two cases in late March that will likely impact the future of gay marriage.
While many states have passed bans on gay marriage and up until the last election no state had popularly approved measures in support of it, many see the 2012 election as a tipping point of public opinion and acceptance. In all four states where the issue was before voters, the voters sided on the pro-gay side of the question—leading to legalizing gay marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington and saying no to a proposed ban in Minnesota.
As the high court preps to hear cases on it, gay marriage supporters are hopeful that their ability to demonstrate public acceptance will help move justices to their legal arguments more easily.
"As the merits of marriage equality come up for debate from state houses to the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a broad majority of Americans are standing up for liberty and fairness, the president's unequivocal support for equality is a clarion call that all Americans should receive with celebration," Griffin said.
Obama has not always been a supporter of same-sex marriage, but in the summer of 2012—following by a bold statement of support for it by Vice President Joe Biden—Obama told the public he had evolved on the issue.
But NOM's Brown is also optimistic about how the court will decide on the upcoming cases, citing precedence.
"Six federal courts have rejected the idea that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court in a summary decision in 1972," he said. "Furthermore, the vast majority of states have codified the commonsense view held for thousands of years that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. The president is profoundly wrong to imply that those who have acted to protect marriage have denied anyone's rights by doing so."
The Supreme Court could make rulings on the pair of cases as soon as June.