A year after Obama "evolved" on marriage, gains for gay rights

Marriage equality supporters take part in a march and rally ahead of U.S. Supreme Court arguments on legalizing same-sex marriage in New York on March 24, 2013. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

In the past year, the push for gay rights has made remarkable progress: Dozens of elected officials have expressed support for same-sex marriage, a handful of states have passed marriage equality laws and public support for the issue continues to grow.

The push for gay rights has been decades in the making, but the campaign for marriage equality gained true momentum one year ago, when President Obama made history by becoming the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage.

"We need people in our country who have the power to change policies and improve people's lives like President Obama... not only for marriage equality but other equality issues," Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of the gay rights organization GetEQUAL, told CBSNews.com. "We also we need to be able to change the culture -- laws can change, but there's the everlasting work of changing hearts and minds."

Activists make the case the president helped on both fronts.

When it comes to policy, "I think that the president has both talked the talk and walked the walk," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for the gay rights organization the Human Rights Campaign. "He has made LGBT issues a priority and we're quite pleased with what he's been able to deliver."

Mr. Obama signed into law the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, and he's supported regulatory changes such as granting hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples.

In the Supreme Court this year, the Obama administration refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The administration also argued in the Supreme Court against California's same-sex marriage ban.

After Mr. Obama helped prove that backing same-sex marriage wasn't a toxic position, it also gained momentum at the state level: In November 2012, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to pass ballot initiatives approving of same-sex marriage. In the last two weeks, Rhode Island and Delaware became the 10th and 11th states to legalize same-sex marriage, and more are expected to soon follow their lead.

The fight for gay rights, however, doesn't end with marriage equality. Activists are pushing for the president and members of Congress to support two amendments to the Senate's immigration bill introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., which would give same-sex couples similar immigration rights as opposite-sex couples. So far the White House, hesitant to disrupt the congressional debate over the immigration bill, hasn't taken a position on any amendments.

Additionally, gay rights activists are pushing for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would federally prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, 29 states lack sexual orientation non-discrimination laws, and 34 states lack gender identity non-discrimination laws.

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