WASHINGTON (AP) — A celebratory crowd of thousands gathered on a cold Tuesday afternoon to watch President Joe Biden sign gay marriage legislation into law, a joyful ceremony tempered by the backdrop of continued conservative backlash over gender issues.
“This law and the love it defends is a blow to hate in all its forms,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House. “And that’s why this law is important to every American.”
Singers Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper performed. Vice President Kamala Harris recalled officiating at a lesbian wedding in San Francisco. And the White House played a recording of Biden’s televised interview from a decade ago when he made political waves by unexpectedly revealing his support for same-sex marriage. Biden was vice president at the time, and President Barack Obama had not yet endorsed the idea.
“I got into trouble,” Biden joked about that moment. Three days later, Obama himself publicly approved same-sex marriage.
Lawmakers from both parties attended Tuesday’s ceremony, reflecting the growing acceptance of same-sex unions, once one of the country’s most controversial issues.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., wore the same purple tie to the ceremony that he wore to his daughter Alison’s wedding. She and her wife are expecting their first child in the spring.
“Thanks to the millions of people who have worked for change over the years, and the tenacious work of my colleagues, my grandchild will be able to live in a world that respects and honors their mothers’ marriages,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the crowd that “maneuvering in will only get us so far,” and thanked activists who gave impetus with “your impatience, your perseverance, and your patriotism.”
Despite Tuesday’s excitement, there was concern about the nationwide proliferation of conservative policies on gender issues at the state level.
Biden criticized the “hard-hitting, cynical laws that have been put in place in the states targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors who give children the care they need.”
“Racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, they are all connected,” Biden said. “But the antidote to hate is love.”
Those in attendance included the owner of Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado where five people were killed in a shooting last month, and two survivors of the attack. The suspect is charged with hate crimes.
“It has not escaped my notice that our fight for freedom has not been accomplished,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “But this is a huge step forward, and we should celebrate the victories we achieve and use them to fuel the future of the battle.”
Robinson attended the ceremony with her wife and 1-year-old child.
“Our kids are watching this moment,” she said. “It’s very special to have them here and show them that we’re on the right side of history.”
The new law aims to protect same-sex marriages if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses Obergefell v. Hodges, its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex unions nationwide. The new law also protects interracial marriages. In 1967, the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia has enacted laws in 16 states banning interracial marriage.
The signing marks the culmination of a months-long bipartisan effort sparked by the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that allowed abortion nationwide.
In a concurring opinion in the case that overturned Roe, Judge Clarence Thomas suggested reconsidering other decisions, including the legalization of same-sex marriage, sparking fears that more rights could be jeopardized by the Conservative majority of the court. Thomas did not refer to interracial marriage among the other cases he said should be reconsidered.
Lawmakers forged a compromise designed to address conservative concerns about religious freedom, such as ensuring churches can still refuse same-sex marriages.
In addition, states would not be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if the court reverses its 2015 ruling. But they will have to recognize marriages performed elsewhere in the country.
A majority of Republicans in Congress still voted against the legislation. However, there was enough support to evade a filibuster in the Senate and ensure its passage.
Tuesday’s ceremony marks a new chapter in Biden’s gay rights legacy, including his surprise endorsement of marriage equality in 2012.
“What this is all about is a simple statement: Who do you love?” Biden then said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”. “Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s where people find out what all marriages are basically about.”
A Gallup poll found that only 27% of American adults supported same-sex marriage in 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which stated that the federal government would only recognize heterosexual marriages. Biden voted for the legislation.
By the time of Biden’s 2012 interview, same-sex marriage remained controversial, but support had expanded to about half of American adults, according to Gallup. Earlier this year, 71% said same-sex unions should be legally recognised.
Biden has pushed for the expansion of LGBT rights since taking office. He ended President Donald Trump’s attempts to strip transgender people of protection from discrimination. His government includes the first openly gay cabinet memberTransportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and the first transgender person to receive Senate confirmationAssistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.