President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law at a White House ceremony, cementing his reputation as an advocate for LGBTQ rights ten years after shocking the country by openly endorsing same-sex marriage.
For the country’s oldest president, the celebration represented a turning point in his long journey toward same-sex unions. On a beautiful but chilly afternoon on the South Lawn, hundreds of supporters and other attendees joined the president and congressional leaders to witness Biden sign legislation that legalized same-sex and interracial marriage.
“Today is going well. A significant step toward equality is taken by America today. toward liberty and justice for all people, not just some. Everyone,” stated Biden. “Towards building a country where honor, respect, and protection for decency, dignity, and love.”
At a time when supporters worry the Supreme Court may reconsider its decision that made same-sex marriage a legal option nationally more than seven years ago, the president increased his influence on equality issues by signing the Equal Rights Amendment. A political change that Biden had predicted years earlier was finally realized with the passage of the historic law, which was viewed as a turning point in American society.
The historic bill was supported by 39 Republicans and cleared the House last week by a vote of 258 to 169. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), and Thom Tillis oversaw negotiations in the Senate that led to its passage there (R-N.C.). 12 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, which the Senate approved.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced the meeting on Tuesday at the White House. Biden thanked the legislators and party leaders who worked on the bill.
It’s one thing for the Supreme Court to decide on a case, but it’s quite another for duly elected representatives of the people to cast a vote on the floor of the US Congress and declare that love is love strongly and unequivocally. Truth is truth. Justice is justice, according to Biden.
Attendees snapped pictures while raising their telephones. Many people earlier danced to the pre-show music playing over the speakers. As the audience applauded, some front-row spectators waved miniature rainbow pride flags. Before the president arrived, singer, Sam Smith sang “Stay with Me,” and activist and musician Cyndi Lauper sang “True Colors.”
Biden seemed animated as he approached the podium. He grinned, telling the gathering that they might recall when he supported same-sex marriage ten years ago “on a specific TV show.” He said, “I got into trouble.”
At a Los Angeles fundraiser hosted by a same-sex couple, whose two young children were playing nearby, Chad Griffin, then-president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, spoke with the vice president. At the time, Griffin was about to take over as the Human Rights Campaign president. Griffin questioned Biden about his opinions on same-sex unions, and Biden’s response during the event was repeated on NBC’s “Meet the Press” two weeks later. One inquiry, according to Biden: “Who do you love?”
At the time, Biden ignited a disruption in the White House when he remarked, “I am perfectly comfortable with the concept that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.” Three days later, President Barack Obama endorsed the cause.
For Biden, who had nearly 20 years previously supported the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted marriage to unions involving only men and women, that interview proved to be a turning point. Biden’s reputation as a devout Catholic and an active extended family member was advantageous. This was significant when he addressed his audiences, which Griffin described as “voters at all levels — union employees, blue-collar workers, and people throughout the political spectrum.”
He observed the progression of Biden’s career, from that day at the fundraiser to his public declaration of support on television two weeks later to his standing behind the president on Tuesday at the bill signing.
President Biden’s very early role in securing marriage in terms of public opinion, in terms of shifting the needle in the country on support for marriage equality, he added, made it “more than fitting” that he be the one to sign the marriage bill into law.
In his early years as president, Biden’s advocacy for equality was very clear. On the first day, he issued an executive order to combat prejudice throughout the federal administration. He lifted his predecessor’s prohibition on transgender service members in the military the same week. According to the White House, 14% of Biden’s appointees self-identify as LGBTQ.