After decades of work by activists, Biden signs Respect for Marriage Act into law

"The antidote to hate is love," the president said during a White House signing ceremony

Published December 14, 2022 10:37AM (EST)

President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Law of the White House in Washington, DC on December 13, 2022. ((BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images))
President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Law of the White House in Washington, DC on December 13, 2022. ((BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images))

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Human rights advocates cheered Tuesday's signing by U.S. President Joe Biden of the Respect for Marriage Act, landmark legislation to codify limited protections for same-sex and interracial marriages passed in response to right-wing attacks on civil rights.

The new law—which passed the Senate on November 30th and the House of Representatives last Thursday—requires states to recognize marriage licenses issued anywhere in the United States. It does not confirm nationwide same-sex marriage rights as established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges. Nor does it prohibit states from banning same-sex marriage if Obergefell is struck down, as Justice Clarence Thomas suggested it should be in his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the June decision that voided half a century of national abortion rights.

Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, Biden took aim at the "callous, cynical laws introduced in the states targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors who give children the care they need."

"Racism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia—they're all connected," the president asserted. "But the antidote to hate is love. This law and the love it defends strike a blow against hate in all its forms."

Vice President Kamala Harris noted that "as attorney general of California, I had the honor of giving the order to allow same-sex marriages to take place across the state in 2013. Now, we continue our progress with the Respect for Marriage Act becoming law."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hailed the new law as "a landmark victory in the fight for full equality enshrining the foundational right to marry the person you love into the law of the land."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wearing the same purple tie he wore to his lesbian daughter's wedding, said that "thanks to the millions out there who spent years pushing for change, and thanks to the dogged work of my colleagues, my grandchild will get to live in a world that respects and honors their mothers' marriage."

The White House was lit in the colors of the rainbow for the signing ceremony. There were performances from musicians Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper, who sang her 1986 Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit "True Colors."

"For once, our families, mine and a lot of my friends—and people you know, sometimes your neighbors—we can rest easy tonight, because our families are validated," Lauper said before the signing.

Matthew Haynes, co-owner of Club Q, the Colorado Springs nightclub where a mass shooter killed five people and wounded 19 others last month, was also on hand.

"We must stop the violence like we just saw in Colorado Springs," Biden asserted.

A video recalled how Biden, then vice president, came out in support of same-sex marriage equality before his boss, then-President Barack Obama, a decade ago. Biden joked that he "got in trouble" for that, but three days later an "evolving" Obama publicly endorsed gay marriage.

Democratic politicians and advocates applauded the signing, with Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., who is gay, tweeting that "today is a HISTORIC day for the LGBTQ community. The Respect for Marriage Act is the law of the land."

"When I presided over the Respect for Marriage Act, I had a simple message for the far right: 'Your hate will never have the final word on our love,'" he added.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who is lesbian, tweeted: "It was great to be at the White House to celebrate the Respect for Marriage Act being signed into law by @POTUS ! I'm happy that the hard work and long hours of bipartisan negotiation have finally paid off for the millions of loving same-sex & interracial couples across America."

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, whose daughter is transgender, wrote on Twitter that "I was honored to watch as @POTUS honored the fundamental right of Americans to marry the person they love. It means people like my child will have the same rights as everyone else."

Janson Wu, executive director of the advocacy group GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said in a statement that "this is a joyful day. 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."

"The effort to pass the Respect for Marriage Act spanned decades and involved the work of so many. The law's passage this year demonstrates the strong and growing support for equality among Americans of all political parties and from all walks of life," Wu added.

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said that "55 years after Loving v. Virginia," the Supreme Court case legalizing interracial marriage, "and seven years after Obergefell v. Hodges, we can celebrate that marriage equality is now the law of the land."

"We thank President Biden and members of Congress who voted for this historic bill for ensuring that love wins," Saunders added.

By Brett Wilkins

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