Marriage Equality Is Now Federal Law After President Biden Signs Act

President Joe Biden signing Respect for Marriage Act
President Joe Biden signing Respect for Marriage Act
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law Tuesday afternoon, assuring that marriage equality for same-sex and interracial couples will remain the law of the land no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court does.

"Today's a good day," Biden said as he stepped before the audience outside the White House. He recalled when he first came out for marriage equality 10 years ago, when he was vice president. "I want to thank all of you for being here today," he told those in attendance, citing Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Jill Biden, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

He praised the legislators who worked for the legislation, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Susan Collins, Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, and others, and out U.S. Reps. David Cicilline and Sharice Davids as well as allies like U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler and especially outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

He said he was thinking of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose case won the right to interracial marriage in all states at the Supreme Court in 1967. He also noted all the couples and individuals who fought for the right to same-sex marriage, such as the late Edie Windsor, who fought the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition to her marriage to Thea Spyer. "Today we celebrate our progress," he said.

"Love is love. Right is right. Justice is justice," he added.

He condemned anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that is being introduced and passed in states around the nation and Justice Clarence Thomas's stated desire for the Supreme Court to reverse its marriage equality ruling. He noted that racism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-Semitism are all connected.

He went on to celebrate the fact that out WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has been freed from a Russian prison and said he got to know her wife, Cherelle Griner, while working for Brittney's release.

Then he signed the bill into law to cheers throughout the audience. As he stepped up from the desk he signed the legislation on, Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" played.

Vice President Harris spoke before Biden.

"This is a victory," she said, adding, “The Dobbs decision reminds us that fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right to marry who you love, the right to access contraception and the right to make decisions about your own body,” referring to the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned abortion rights. She reminded the audience that fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right to marry and the right to control one's reproductive life. And she quoted Harvey Milk: "Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard." She also praised Biden for elevating LGBTQ+ people throughout his administration.

Ahead of the signing, Biden had posted the following tweet:

The Respect for Marriage Act will assure that the federal government recognizes same-sex and interracial marriages and that all states recognize those performed in other states. It forbids anyone acting under a state law to discriminate based on the gender or race of a married couple. It repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which has been unenforceable since the Supreme Court rulings in Windsor v. U.S. (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) but remains on the books. DOMA, passed by Congress in 1996, banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to those performed in other states.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the original version of the bill in July. In November, the Senate added an amendment to allay concerns that the act would interfere with religious liberty. The amendment confirms that no nonprofit religious organization would have to provide goods, services, or facilities for wedding ceremonies or receptions, and it clarifies that the federal government would not have to recognize polygamous marriages.

The Senate passed the amended version of the bill November 29, and the House OK’d that version last week. In both chambers, a scattering of Republicans joined all Democrats in supporting the bill.

The impetus for the legislation came after Supreme Court Justice Thomas said the court should overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that established marriage equality nationwide. The statement came in his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in all states. There is no case currently making its way through the courts challenging Obergefell, but Thomas and other conservatives have made clear they would welcome one.

The act will not require any state to allow same-sex marriages to be performed. State bans on these unions were struck down in Obergefell, so such bans could be enacted again if Obergefell is overturned, as Congress has always left the definition of marriage to the states. But every state would have to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

“This is a big day for me, but not just me, ” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing. Jean-Pierre is the first out queer person to serve as press secretary. “I think I speak for many of us at the White House today that we could not be prouder to be working for this administration, to be working for this particular president, and to be working on all the issues that are going to change Americans’ lives as we have seen historic legislation over the last 22 months.”

The Human Rights Campaign said the legislation is the biggest legislative win for LGBTQ+ rights since the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2010.

“Today is a historic day and a much-needed victory for our community. It should be lost on no one that this bill signing comes less than a month after a deadly attack on our community in Colorado Springs, and at a time when the community continues to face ongoing threats of online and offline violence, as well as legislative attacks on our rights. In signing this bill, President Biden has shown that LGBTQ+ peoples’ lives and love are valid and supported,” said Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson.

Other advocate groups also heralded the new law.

“Like many people in this country, the passage of this critical civil rights legislation is personal to me,” Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said. “My parents, a Black man and White woman, got married in 1961 before Loving v. Virginia, the landmark SCOTUS case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. My daughter is a lesbian — and yes, she deserves to live and love and marry like I can.”

Wiley added: “This bill leaves the harmful legacy of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) behind and sends the message to LGBTQ and interracial couples everywhere that their marriages will be protected. Everyone should have the right to be with the person they love, and we look forward to President Biden signing this landmark legislation into law, and making it clear to the Supreme Court where this country stands on marriage equality.”

From the Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of inclusive religious freedom organization Interfaith Alliancet: “Marriage will be protected for millions of couples across the country in large part thanks to the steadfast support from diverse faith communities. This achievement is a shining example of our power to wield faith as a bridge, not a bludgeon. Interfaith Alliance is honored to join President Biden at the White House for this historic signing, and we look forward to continuing our work with leaders on both sides of the aisle to further an inclusive vision of religious freedom.”