WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden signed the gay marriage law into law before thousands of people Tuesday, a ceremony that reflected the growing acceptance of same-sex unions.
“This law and the love it defends strike a blow to hate in all its forms,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House. “And that’s why this law matters to every single American.”
Lawmakers from both parties were in attendance, as were First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff. Singers Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper performed.
“For once, our families, mine and many of my friends — and people you know, sometimes your neighbors — can stay calm tonight because our families are validated,” Lauper said before the ceremony in the White House briefing room.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., wore the same purple tie at the ceremony that he wore at his daughter’s wedding. His daughter and her wife are expecting their first child in the spring.
“Thanks to the tireless work of many of my colleagues, my grandchild will live in a world that respects and honors their mothers’ marriages,” Schumer said in the Senate morning.
The triumphant mood played out against a backdrop of a right-wing backlash on gender issues that has alarmed gay and transgender people and their advocates. Biden criticized the “callous, cynical laws that have been introduced in states that target transgender children, scare families and criminalize doctors who give children the care they need.”
“Racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, they’re all interconnected,” Biden said. “But the antidote to hate is love.”
Among those in attendance were the owner of Club Q, a Colorado gay nightclub where five people were killed in a shooting last month, and two survivors of the attack. The suspect was charged with hate crimes.
Plaintiffs from court cases that originally helped secure national gay marriage rights were also present.
“It hasn’t escaped my notice that our fight for freedom hasn’t been accomplished,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “But this is a huge step forward and we need to celebrate the victories we’ve had and use them to drive the future of the fight.”
Robinson attended the ceremony with her wife and one-year-old child.
“Our kids are watching this moment,” she said. “It’s very special to have them here and to show them that we’re on the right side of history.”
The new law aims to protect same-sex marriages if the US Supreme Court ever sees Obergefell v. Hodges, whose 2015 decision legalized same-sex partnerships nationwide. The new law also protects interracial marriages. In 1967, the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia enacted legislation in 16 states outlawing interracial marriage.
The signing marks the culmination of a month-long bipartisan effort sparked by the Supreme Court’s June decision Roe v. Wade to overturn the 1973 ruling that made abortion available nationwide.
In a unanimous opinion in the case that ousted Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested reconsidering other decisions, including legalizing gay marriage, fueling fears more civil rights would be jeopardized by the court’s conservative majority could. Thomas has not included interracial marriage in other cases that he said should be reconsidered.
Lawmakers have worked out a compromise intended to allay conservative concerns about religious freedom, for example to ensure churches can still refuse to perform gay marriage.
Additionally, states are not required to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples. However, they must recognize marriages contracted elsewhere in the country.
A majority of Republicans in Congress still voted against the law. However, there was enough support to dodge a Senate filibuster and ensure its passage.
Tuesday’s ceremony marks another chapter in Biden’s legacy on gay rights.
In a television interview in 2012, when he was vice president, he memorably – and unexpectedly – advocated same-sex partnerships. Days later, President Barack Obama announced that he also supports gay marriage.
A clip of the interview was played at the ceremony.
“What’s at stake here is a simple statement: Who do you love?” Biden said on NBC’s Meet the Press a decade ago. “Who do you love and will you be faithful to the person you love? And that’s what people find out, what the root of all marriages is about.”
A Gallup poll found that in 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which said the federal government would recognize only heterosexual marriages, only 27% of US adults supported same-sex partnerships. Biden voted for the law.
At the time of Biden’s 2012 interview, gay marriage remained controversial, but support had spread to about half of adult Americans, according to Gallup. Earlier this year, 71% said same-sex partnerships should be legally recognized.
Biden has pushed to expand LGBT rights since taking office. He reversed President Donald Trump’s efforts to strip transgender people of antidiscrimination protections. His administration includes the first openly gay Cabinet member, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and the first transgender person to receive Senate confirmation, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Rachel Levine
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