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State of the Union addresses gay marriage, Islam

WASHINGTON (BP) — In his final State of the Union address, President Obama praised nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, warned against overemphasizing the threat posed by the terrorist group ISIS and touted American exceptionalism.

The hour-long address made no reference to abortion-related issues, including the attempt by conservatives to withdraw government funding from Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider. Obama proposed few legislative agenda items to the Republican-controlled House and Senate, opting instead to review some of his administration’s accomplishments. At times, he criticized 2016 Republican presidential candidates without naming them specifically.

On three occasions during the Jan. 12 speech, Obama referenced homosexuality.

First, the president said employing America’s “unique strengths as a nation” was “how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love” — a reference to last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Following a second, passing reference to homosexuality, Obama praised a hypothetical “son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught” as examples of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

Regarding ISIS, Obama said the Islamic terrorist group “can do a lot of damage” but does not “threaten our national existence.” The way to defeat ISIS is through “a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power,” not through “calls to carpet bomb civilians” — an apparent reference to GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s statement that America should “carpet bomb” ISIS.

Cruz clarified in a Dec. 9 interview with NPR that be believes “no responsible military action targets civilians” though war may involve “inadvertent collateral casualties.”

Obama told Congress, “As we focus on destroying ISIL [another name for ISIS], over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians. They have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.”

The president added, “We sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.”

Later, Obama referenced Islam by name.

“When politicians insult Muslims,” he said, “whether abroad or fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. … It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.” The world respects America “for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

Obama took issue with “all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker,” another presumed reference to GOP presidential candidates. “America,” the president said, “is the most powerful nation on earth, period.”

He continued, “No nation attacks us directly or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office. And when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead. They call us.”

Additionally, the U.S. “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” he said.

Among Obama’s other emphases:

— Climate change is both an environmental concern and an economic opportunity, he said, noting the growth of wind and solar energy technologies.

“Even if the planet wasn’t at stake,” Obama said, “… why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

— The Iran nuclear deal represents “principled diplomacy,” he said. Iran “has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium, and the world has avoided another war.”

Obama did not mention 10 U.S. Navy sailors who were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Jan. 12 after their boats drifted into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, CNN reported. The sailors were released Jan. 13.

— Obama expressed hope he and Congress can work together in 2016 on criminal justice reform, drug abuse treatment programs and anti-poverty initiatives.

The president concluded his speech, “I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people. And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the state of our union is strong.”