President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a landmark new federal protection for same-sex and interracial couples, covering both a personal and national evolution in an issue that has gained acceptance over the past decade.
Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act in front of thousands of invitees on the South Lawn in an event the White House said reflected the importance of the moment.
“Marriage is a simple proposal. Who do you love? And are you loyal to that person you love?” asked the president from the South Lawn. “It’s not more complicated than that.”
Biden said the bill he was about to sign recognizes that “everyone should have the right to answer those questions for themselves without government intervention,” and ensure the federal “protection that comes with marriage.”
“For most of our country’s history, we have denied interracial and same-sex couples these protections,” Biden said. “It failed to treat them with equal dignity and respect. And now this law requires interracial marriage and same-sex marriage must be recognized as legal in every state of the country.”
Don Lemon and fiancé react to Biden’s same-sex marriage signing
The new law officially voids the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as marriage between a man and a woman. It requires states to respect the validity of out-of-state marriage licenses, including same-sex marriages and interracial unions.
As a senator, Biden voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. The signing of the bill on Tuesday was the culmination of his change on the issue. The bill passed the House with 39 Republicans joining Democrats in support after passing the Senate with 12 Republican senators.
Such a bill seemed unlikely to many in Washington not so long ago, even though public opinion on same-sex marriage has continued to shift over the years: 68% of Americans supported same-sex marriage in 2021, an increase of 14 percentage points from of 2014, according to studies by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Religious Research Institute.
But public demonstrations and pressure to pass federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages intensified this year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, sparking new fears that the nation’s highest court might also rethink other existing rights around marriage equality. .
On the day the landmark Supreme Court ruling was delivered in June, Biden warned that Judge Clarence Thomas was “expressly calling for a reconsideration of the right to marriage equality, the right of couples to make their choices about birth control. This is an extreme and dangerous path that the Court is now taking us.”
He would issue similar warnings during the campaign trail leading up to the midterms: “We want to make it clear: It’s not just about Roe and choice. It’s about – it’s about marriage – same-sex marriage. It’s about birth control. It’s about a whole bunch of things that are on the agenda,” he said at a Democratic National Committee reception in August.
For Biden, Tuesday’s event a decade ago marked a moment that sparked a national political transformation on the issue. While serving as a vice president, Biden shocked the country with an unexpected statement he made in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: He spoke out publicly for the first time in favor of same-sex marriage.
“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men who marry men, women who marry women, and heterosexual men and women who marry another are entitled to exactly the same rights, all civil rights, all civil liberties,” said Biden when asked if he was. comfortable with gay marriage.
Those words — which Biden insisted were unplanned in subsequent years — marked a stunning personal evolution for Washington’s longtime orphan, who as a senator had voted to block federal recognition of same-sex marriages and previously insisted that marriage only be between a man may take place and a woman.
The interview would also prove to be a watershed moment in modern American politics, leading then-President Barack Obama to take the same stance a few days later, authorizing other national leaders to follow suit as well.
“That one interview was a transformative moment in Biden’s development as a politician. In the Senate, as a presidential candidate and vice president, he had always been very cautious about LGBT issues, afraid to take positions that opponents could use to portray him as a left-winger,” says Sasha Issenberg, author of “The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Gay Marriage,” CNN told CNN. “But the reception of what he said on ‘Meet the Press’ has been widely praised within his party, especially from LGBT advocates and donors who have previously been skeptical of him.”
Basking in the heroic treatment of liberal activists, Biden would aggressively associate himself with LGBT causes in years to come, and he has been particularly “unusually brutal” when it comes to transgender rights, Issenberg said.
Among the guests invited to the White House for the signing of the bill on Tuesday were prominent members of the LGBTQ community and activists. They included Judy Kasen-Windsor, widow of gay rights activist Edie Windsor; Matthew Haynes, co-owner of Club Q, the LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs where a gunman killed five people in a mass shooting last month; Club Q survivors James Slaugh and Michael Anderson; and a number of plaintiffs from cases culminating in the seminal civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples can marry nationwide.
Philanthropist and Democratic donor David Bohnett, an outspoken gay and transgender rights activist and longtime supporter of Biden, told CNN Tuesday’s signing of the bill couldn’t come at a more important time.
“[Biden] has expressed its support for lesbian and gay civil rights for decades, and signing the bill into law on Tuesday is a reaffirmation of that at a time when rights are under attack,” Bohnett said. “I think we’re here in response to the hateful and discriminatory actions and tactics of so many on the right and so many who want to dismantle the rights we’ve fought for so long.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.