Joe Biden’s powerful warning to bigots as he signs Respect for Marriage Act
US president Joe Biden has signed the Respect for Marriage Act in a huge win for LGBTQ+ couples in the country, calling out homophobic, transphobic, racist and antisemitic bigots in the process.
The 46th acting US president was joined by first lady Jill Biden, vice president Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, as well as non-binary drag queen Marti G Cummings and countless other activists who witnessed the bill’s enaction.
On a cold winter’s afternoon, political activists huddled together to witness Biden put pen to a paper that has endured decades of scrutiny and bureaucratic whiplash so that LGBTQ+ couples can feel safe in their love.
The events at the White House were capped off with a colourful celebration, featuring performances from Cyndi Lauper and Sam Smith.
“Today is a good day,” Biden said in an address after signing the act. “Today, America takes a vital step toward equality, liberty and justice. Not just for some, but for everyone.
He added that one of the most “profound decisions a person can make” is to marry the person they love, adding it was a shame that the US “had denied interracial couples and same-sex couples” vital legal protections.
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“We failed to treat them with equal dignity and respect.”
Biden also hit out at the growing tide of transphobia and homophobia that has swept across the US, resulting in protests against LGBTQ+ events and extreme acts of violence.
“Racism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, they’re all connected,” he added.
“But the antidote to hate is love.”
The legislation’s approval now means that same-sex interracial marriage is codified into US law by repealing provisions that define marriage as a man and a woman.
“This law and the love it defends strikes a blow against hate and all its forms, and that’s why this law matters to every single American, no matter who you are or who you love,” the US president continued.
Politicians, human rights organisations, and various other groups took to Twitter to celebrate the historic moment, with the Human Rights Campaign calling it a “step closer to achieving equality for all.”
Congressman Ritchie Torres wrote: “The meaning of, ‘We the People,’ includes the LGBTQ+ community.”
Additionally, Kamala Harris celebrated that “marriage equality is on its way to becoming law.”
Senator Tammy Baldwin expressed her gratitude towards the bill’s signing after the “hard work and long hours of bipartisan negotiation” that she and many others had put into it.
Ahead of the event, Cyndi Lauper told reporters in the White House briefing room that “Americans can now love who they love.”
“We can rest easy tonight because our families are validated and because we’re allowed to love who we love.”
Origins of the Respect for Marriage Act
The bill’s journey to Joe Biden’s desk has been one littered with trials and postponement since its introduction in July 2022.
The bill derives from a proposed 2009 law of the same name that was routinely reintroduced and scrapped over the course of 13 years.
Its latest reintroduction came in June 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, effectively gutting abortion rights nationwide.
During his concurring opinion, justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the ruling set a precedent for Supreme Court justices to review past cases, including Obergefell v Hodges, which enforced nationwide legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Lawmakers quickly became concerned at the precedent that Thomas put forward, considering that, were the justices to overturn the ruling, it would reintroduce the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
The legislation – signed by Bill Clinton, who would later admit to having regretted doing so – established a foundational definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
While Obergefell v Hodges effectively nullified the bill, it did not remove it from US law, meaning that it would come back into effect given the right circumstances.
Reintroduction of the Respect for Marriage Act
Upon its reintroduction into the US House of Representatives, Republican politicians almost immediately disregarded the bill as a political tactic by Democrats to force politicians to declare their viewpoints on contentious issues ahead of the midterm elections.
Ohio Republican Jim Jordan called the bill a “political charade”, saying that the representatives were not there for “political messaging”.
Regardless of the accusatory claims of Democratic tactics by anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans, the bill managed to pass its first vote through the House with a vote of 267-157.
All 220 House Democrats voted for the bill, while a surprising 47 House Republicans joined them in their support.
“For me, this is personal,” congressman Mondaire Jones said. “Imagine telling the next generation of Americans, my generation, we no longer have the right to marry.
“Congress can’t allow that to happen.”
The Senate vote on the Respect for Marriage Act
Next was the bill’s divisive Senate vote – which was the furthest the bill had gotten in past votes prior to the 2022 reintroduction.
Senators and House representatives alike both believed the Senate was where the bill would be stopped dead, considering the Republican influence in the chamber.
But, shockingly, various right-wing senators signalled their support for the bill ahead of the vote.
A bipartisan group of politicians came together in July to convince the ten Republican votes needed to pass the bill after a 50-50 split.
As part of a bargaining strategy for those who opposed the bill because of the upcoming midterm elections in November, both parties agreed to postpone the vote until 16 November.
The decision was met with confusion and fury from LGBTQ+ activists, who believed the delay was an “insult” to those currently fearing for their human rights.
The Human Rights Campaign argued that politicians “shouldn’t be debating federal marriage equality in 2022”.
“This legislation would guarantee that same-sex and interracial couples would not see a day when their rights could be stripped away simply because of who they are or whom they love,” the HRC continued. “Now, that guarantee hangs in the balance.”
Despite the backlash, the gamble appeared to have worked after 62 Senators – 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans – passed the act.
A win for love
LGBTQ+ Americans rejoiced as the Respect for Marriage Act finally passed its final vote on 8 December by a vote of 258-169 to be signed into law.
The vote, of course, did not come without tears from homophobic Republicans, who tried everything they could to convince lawmakers that so-called “religious liberties” were at stake.
In the end, however, most lawmakers saw sense in allowing same-sex couples the rights they deserve by protecting them from the tyranny of returning to last century’s homophobic legislation.
“Today, Congress took a critical step to ensure that Americans have the right to marry the person they love,” president Joe Biden said in a statement.
“While we are one step closer on our journey to build a more perfect union, we must never stop fighting for full equality for LGBTQI+ Americans and all Americans.”
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