Michael Lavers | Washington Blade
Courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law.
“Today’s a good day,” said Biden during a signing ceremony that took place on the White House’s South Lawn. “Today America takes a big step towards equality.”
The ceremony took place five days after the Respect for Marriage Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with 39 Republicans voting in favor.
The bill passed in the U.S. Senate on Nov. 29 by a 61-39 vote margin. The Respect for Marriage Act first passed in the House in July.
Biden during the signing ceremony specifically thanked U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and other lawmakers who helped secure the bill’s passage. Biden also reiterated calls for Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law, and for an end to anti-LGBTQ violence in the wake of last month’s massacre at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the proliferation of anti-trans bills across the country.
“When a person can be married in the morning and thrown out of a restaurant in the afternoon, this is still wrong,” said Biden. “We must stop the hate and violence.”
Vice President Kamala Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney in 2004 when she became one of the first public officials in the country to officiate a same-sex wedding. Harris was California’s attorney general when she successfully challenged the state’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on June 26, 2013, struck down Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court on June 25, 2015, issued its landmark Obergefell decision that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country.
Harris noted Tuesday is “a day, when thanks to Democrats and Republicans, we finally protect marriage rights in federal law.” Dozens of same-sex couples who sued for marriage rights across the country and their families stood on the steps leading to the Truman Balcony as she and Biden spoke.
“For millions of LGBTQI+ Americans and interracial couples, this is a victory and part of a larger fight,” said Harris.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion he wrote in the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade suggested the Supreme Court should also reconsider Obergefell and two other decisions that guaranteed the right to private, consensual sex and the ability of married couples to purchase and use contraception.
The House first passed the Respect for Marriage Act less than a month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson. California Congressman Mark Takano, who is openly gay, earlier this month told the Washington Blade that Congress was “reeling” from the ruling and Thomas’ opinion and lawmakers said “we need to protect what we can.”
Harris said the Dobbs decision is a reminder that “fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right to marry who you love, the right to access contraception, and the right to make decisions about your own body.” Biden noted Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act “because of an extreme Supreme Court has stripped away the right important to millions of Americans that existed for half a century.”
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith, one of the plaintiff couples in the lawsuit that led Massachusetts to become the first state in the country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2004, also spoke at the ceremony. Cyndi Lauper, Sam Smith and members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed.
Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg; National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson; Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund Executive Director Andy Marra; David Mixner; Robyn Ochs; Alabama state Rep. Neil Rafferty; Pennsylvania state Sen. Malcolm Kenyatta; Arizona state Rep. Daniel Hernández; former New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Maryland state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City); GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis; Garden State Equality (N.J.) Executive Director Christian Fuscarino; Equality Florida Communications Director Brandon Wolf; Wanda Alston Center Executive Director June Crenshaw and Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, are among 5,300 people who attended the ceremony.
Sinema, Baldwin, Collins, U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D.N.Y), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) were also in attendance.
“Today is a historic day and a much-needed victory for our community,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson in a press release. “It should be lost on no one that this bill signing comes less than a month after a deadly attack on our community in Colorado Springs, and at a time when the community continues to face ongoing threats of online and offline violence, as well as legislative attacks on our rights. In signing this bill, President Biden has shown that LGBTQ+ peoples’ lives and love are valid and supported.”
GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders Janson Wu said “millions of couples and their children across the country now have the assurance that their families will continue to be respected by our state and federal governments because President Biden has signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law.” Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang echoed these sentiments.
“This is an historic milestone for our movement and an important victory for hundreds of thousands of loving couples and their children across the nation,” said Hoang in a statement. “All Americans deserve the freedom to marry the person they love, and this bill is a reflection of the fact that for the majority of Americans — across all political parties, backgrounds, and in every corner of the country — the debate over marriage equality is settled.”
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