Thank you, John [Elias], for that kind introduction – and for your leadership as President of DOJ Pride. It’s a pleasure to be here today. And it’s a privilege to join you – and so many of your peers and predecessors – in celebrating the 20th anniversary of this remarkable organization.
I’d also like to thank Rick Knight for that rendition of the National Anthem; Richard Toscano, his colleagues from the Equal Employment Opportunity Staff, and DOJ Pride’s entire leadership team for all they’ve done to bring us together; and each of our distinguished guests – Roberta Kaplan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pam Karlan, and Supervisory Special Agent Deirdre Emmes – for sharing their time, their stories, and their unique perspectives with us this morning.
Finally, I’d like to thank all of you, every member of DOJ Pride, for the tremendous honor of receiving this year’s Gerald B. Roemer Award – and for putting me in such good company, alongside Judge [Judith] Levy, recipient of the James R. Douglass Award.
As I’ve said in the past, I firmly believe that the measure of any award is found not in the qualifications of the person to whom it’s presented, but in the legacy that it honors. That’s why I could not be prouder to accept an award named after our dear friend and colleague, Jerry Roemer – who served this Department with distinction, and stood as an inspiration to so many – including me.
Jerry was a man of strength, character, and tremendous determination. He faced a devastating diagnosis – and a lengthy medical battle – with extraordinary grace and good humor. And although he was taken from us far before his time, I commend this organization for ensuring that his memory will live on in the work that we must continue and the award that will forever bear his name. Jerry’s story is one that I will always carry with me. I am profoundly humbled to accept this prestigious recognition in his honor. And I thank you all, once again.
Especially this year, as we gather to reflect upon decades of progress in the fight for LGBT equality – progress made possible by generations of pioneers, partners, and allies across the country – it’s fitting that we convene with so many of the legal advocates and public servants who have helped to take this struggle from our cities’ streets to our courtrooms – and even to the halls of Congress. In recent years – and even in the last 12 months – our nation has made extraordinary strides to overcome obstacles and institutional biases that too often affect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. And while I recognize, as you do, that our work is far from over – and a number of persistent challenges remain before us – thanks to legions of attorneys, activists, and dedicated citizens throughout America, there’s no question that we have much to celebrate.
From the efforts of the Department’s Civil Rights Division to enforce key protections like the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; to our Administration-wide commitment to stopping harassment, bullying, and abusive behavior directed at young people – together, we’re striving to support and safeguard those who are victimized just because of who they are or who they love. From the long-overdue repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – so that those who serve their country in uniform need no longer hide their sexual orientation – to the passage of a strengthened Violence Against Women Act that includes new provisions covering LGBT survivors of domestic abuse – together, we’re ensuring that equality under the law is protected by the law. We’re using every available tool and authority to expand the promise of opportunity and justice for all. And my pledge to you today, as we celebrate the first 20 years of DOJ Pride – is that we will keep looking ahead to the next 20.
Our essential work will continue. This critical cause will endure. And so long as I have the privilege of serving as your Attorney General, this Department will never stop standing up and speaking out for equality and against discrimination – so we can ensure that every American receives the protections, the dignity, and the rights to which he or she is entitled.
This was the principle that drove the President and me to decide, in early 2011, that Justice Department attorneys would no longer defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act – because we shared a strong belief that this measure was unconstitutional discrimination and must be subjected to a higher standard of scrutiny. One year ago this month – on a truly historic day that was made possible by two of the speakers we’ll hear from in just a few moments – the highest court in the land struck down the federal government’s ban on recognizing gay and lesbian couples who are legally married.
Since then – thanks to the tireless work of Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery, his Civil Division colleagues, and other DOJ components, who are leading government-wide implementation of the Windsor decision – the federal government has extended a variety of benefits to Americans in same-sex marriages, including health insurance and other key benefits for federal employees and their families; a uniform policy ensuring that all same-sex married couples are recognized for federal tax purposes; a policy dictating that – for purposes of immigration law – same-sex and opposite-sex marriages will be treated exactly the same; and a policy ensuring that members of the military who are in same-sex marriages will receive the same benefits available to opposite sex couples. And for the very first time in history, in February, I issued guidance formally instructing all Department of Justice employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition – to the greatest extent possible under the law.
These changes will positively impact the lives of many across the country. Every single one of them is worth celebrating. But this is no time to rest on our laurels.
Despite everything that’s been achieved in recent years, each of us has much more work to do – to combat discrimination; to promote opportunity, access, and inclusion; and to keep extending the legacy of accomplishment we gather to commemorate today.
Going forward, our nation will continue to rely on the engagement, the passion, and the steadfast leadership of dedicated public servants like you – and like the talented, courageous women I’m about to introduce.
Today, we have the privilege of hearing from two of the tenacious legal advocates who made last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision possible. First, it’s my pleasure to hand things over to our keynote speaker, Roberta Kaplan – who argued the Defense of Marriage Act challenge on behalf of Edith Windsor. I can think of no one better qualified to discuss this historic case and its implications for our ongoing work. And it’s a sincere pleasure to invite her to share a few words with us this morning.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Roberta Kaplan.
Thank you, Roberta, for those thoughtful remarks. At this time, it is my privilege to introduce our second guest speaker – a valued member of the Justice Department family and a key leader of the Civil Rights Division, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pam Karlan. As you know, Pam served as co-counsel to Edith Windsor before the Supreme Court. She played a key role in shaping the legal argument – and the winning strategy – that made last year’s decision possible. She’s been a champion for the cause of civil rights throughout her career – from her time as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, to her work on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to her willingness to take a leave of absence from Stanford to lead our voting rights enforcement efforts here at the Department. It’s a privilege to have her on our team – and a pleasure to introduce her today.
Please join me in welcoming Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pam Karlan.