The clear, azure sky was motionless in Washington D.C. today as millions gathered on the National Mall in to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.
All that was missing was a rainbow across the horizon. Fortunately, Michael Oakes of London, England was on hand to provide it. Oakes is one of the many members of the gay community that traveled from across the world to attend the event.
“He’s acknowledged we exist, which I think is quite a big deal,” Oakes said. “He hasn’t come out totally for gay marriage, but I think there are signs that we can expect to see a change which we definitely wouldn’t have under any other administration.”
Walking up 18th Street near the Washington Monument, wrapped snuggly in both a British flag and the gay pride flag, he predicted an Obama Presidency will be more respectful towards gays and lesbians.
Oakes and his American partner, Chad Shivner of Chicago, came to the inauguration enthused that a more promising era in America seemed to be dawning.
“It’s nice to finally have a moment where we can be proud of America again,” Shivner said.
The couple moved to London because U.S. immigration policies didn’t allow them to stay together legally.
“In the U.K. we have civil partnerships which cover a lot of the legal things that [gays] are asking for,” Oakes said.
Oakes and Shivner are optimistic that Obama’s administration may pave the way towards gay marriage and that “we might be able to move here as a couple.”
“We’re expecting a lot from him,” said Oakes.
Added Shivner, “It’s nice to finally have a moment where we can be proud of America again.”
James Estes, a graduate student at The Catholic University in Washington D.C., is also looking forward to a more gay-friendly administration but is remaining more pragmatic than optimistic about the next four years.
“If you invest too much hope in him you’re going to be disappointed,” Estes said, citing that Rick Warren, a controversial pastor that campaigned against gay marriage in California in the 2008 election, was chosen to speak the invocation at the Inauguration in addition to Gene Robinson, the first gay ordained bishop of a major Christian denomination.
“In a way its cliché, but it’s also politically brilliant,” Estes said.
But even if former presidential candidate John McCain and Sarah Palin were being sworn in today, gays and lesbians still might have been in attendance.
As to the possibilities of coming overseas to watch a McCain/ Palin inauguration, Shivner and Oakes said they would have considered it.
Oakes said he would have come to protest. Shivner was more blunt.
“Only if I had a clear shot at Palin.”