Valerie Jarrett addressed the audience of the annual Equality Illinois Justice for All gala Saturday night. The senior advisor to President Obama espoused the president’s commitment to LGBT rights but shed no light on his “evolving” views on marriage equality.
Speaking at the Chicago Hilton, Jarrett enumerated the administration’s accomplishments while steering clear of the week’s advancements toward marriage equality in Washington state and California.
“Our union is more perfect than it was three years ago,” Jarrett said. She touted the Matthew Shepherd hate crime legislation, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the policy that enhances visitation rights for same-sex partners at hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid as examples that “people’s lives are simply better” three years into the Obama presidency.
“We have loved this country and we have changed it,” Jarrett said.
Jarrett said the administration will continue to work on passing an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and work for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act
“President Obama stands by you,” Jarrett said. “It’s not that he just believes it gets better but he’s working to make it better.”
Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said Jarrett’s remarks show the administration is on the same page as the LGBT leaders.
“The president has expressed his unequivocal commitment to the LGBT community,” Cherkasov said. “[Jarrett] was here to send the signal that the LGBT equality movement is heard in the White House.”
As for marriage, Cherkasov said groups like Equality Illinois need to work in collaboration – not just to educate the general population but also to build pressure on elected officials.
Cherkasov and the gala’s other speakers, among them Jeremy Gottschalk, president of Equality Illinois’s board of directors, celebrated the implementation of the Illinois civil union law and focused much of their attention on introduction of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act in the Illinois General Assembly, the Washington state marriage equality vote and the 9th Circuit ruling on Proposition 8.
Cherkasov said attendance at the gala was up 25 percent with an estimated turnout of about 1300. Individual tickets started at $300.
The event attracted many of the state’s top elected officials including U.S. Congressman Michael Quigley, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrived during cocktail hour, snapping photos and shaking hands with constituents. Gov. Pat Quinn briefly addressed the audience, noting that more than 3,700 civil unions have been performed in 90 counties.