"The time of justice has now come"
This seems like the right night to show this video:
You can see the whole speech here. It's truly inspiring, if only as a reminder that even when wars and apartheid and blood in the streets are required, progress does eventually happen. But even then it requires vigilance to maintain it:
Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.
As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil, I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.
But a century has passed, more than a hundred years, since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight.
It was more than a hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln, a great President of another party, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact.
A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal.
A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept.
The time of justice has now come. I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come. And when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American.
For Negroes are not the only victims. How many white children have gone uneducated, how many white families have lived in stark poverty, how many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we have wasted our energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?
So I say to all of you here, and to all in the Nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future.
This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall overcome.
Now let none of us in any sections look with prideful righteousness on the troubles in another section, or on the problems of our neighbors. There is really no part of America where the promise of equality has been fully kept. In Buffalo as well as in Birmingham, in Philadelphia as well as in Selma, Americans are struggling for the fruits of freedom.
This is one Nation. What happens in Selma or in Cincinnati is a matter of legitimate concern to every American. But let each of us look within our own hearts and our own communities, and let each of us put our shoulder to the wheel to root out injustice wherever it exists.
It's a hell of a speech. I doubt that Barack Obama will be the one to give such a speech on marriage equality, unfortunately. I'm afraid there's more work to be done before that can happen. In that respect, Obama is more like Truman who bravely took the first big step of integrating the armed forces and ran on civil rights.(Eisenhower also stood for civil rights but added "I believe also that in sustaining that right we must sustain the power of the Federal judges in whose hands such cases would fall.")
Truthfully, I have no idea if any president will ever give such a speech on gay marriage --- this could become more like Roe vs Wade, in which a right is more or less codified by the Supreme Court but the US congress immediately signals that it will remain contentious by passing restrictions (as they did with the Hyde Amendment.) On the other hand, it's also possible that all the states which have banned same-sex marriage will eventually voluntarily overturn their constitutional Amendments and equal rights will be extended by plebiscite in all of them.
Or maybe one day a president will be in a position to stand in the Capitol and say about same-sex marriage what Lyndon Johnson said as he told the congress and the American people that they had to pass the Voting rights act:
My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn't speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.
Somehow you never forget what hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.
I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.
But now I do have that chance—and I'll let you in on a secret—I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.