President Barack Obama on Tuesday skipped the State of the Union tradition of singling out special guests invited to watch the address from the House gallery.
The White House invites guests each year whose background or work illustrates a theme the president hopes to promote. This year was no exception. A Syrian refugee was among about two dozen guests invited to sit with first lady Michelle Obama.
Other guests included a plaintiff in the Supreme Court's gay marriage case, a formerly homeless veteran and an aspiring teacher. Obama also left a seat empty to honor gun violence victims.
During the televised address, cameras occasionally panned to the guests when Obama mentioned issues related to their life stories. But in a departure from usual practice, Obama didn't call out any of them by name.
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The Capitol building was packed with many more guests. Amongt he best known was Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who spent five days in jail for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
It hadn't been clear who invited Davis to the address, which is always attended by at least some of the Supreme Court. In September, after a Supreme Court Decision effectively legalizing gay marriage across the nation, Davis cited "God's authority" and refused to issue marriage licenses, despite a series of federal court orders.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said his "staff heard from the Family Research Council that Ms. Davis and her family hoped to attend the State of the Union address and so I offered a ticket."
Every lawmaker gets one guest ticket to the president's annual speech, though congressional leaders get extras.
First lady Michelle Obama invited Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the case in which the Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage across the nation.