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Biden signs same-sex marriage bill at White House ceremony

The president signed legislation Congress passed last week ensuring federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages.

President Joe Biden signed legislation Tuesday to codify federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages in a ceremony at the White House.

Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also attended.

"Today is a good day, a day America takes a vital step toward equality, toward liberty and justice, not just for some, but for everyone," Biden said.

Biden emphasized bipartisan support for the legislation, passed by Congress last week while calling for more to be done, including a renewed push for a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Biden also quoted directly from a 2012 interview on NBC News' "Meet the Press" in which he came out in public support of same-sex marriage ahead of then-President Barack Obama. Biden's words from that interview were featured on a program for the event.

The legislation Biden signed was drafted by a bipartisan group led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. It will ensure that the federal government recognizes marriages and guarantee full benefits “regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” The law will not, however, require states to issue marriage licenses contrary to state laws.

President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Law of the White House in on Dec. 13, 2022.
President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

The House voted 258-169 to pass the Respect for Marriage Act last week, sending it to the president. The Senate had already passed it late last month by a vote of 61-36.

Democrats unanimously voted to support the legislation, while most Republicans in both chambers opposed it.

Hundreds attended the bill signing on the South Lawn, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., her office confirmed — an appearance with Biden that comes just days after she left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent. Sinema was a lead co-sponsor of the bill, along with Baldwin and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio. She helped broker a compromise amendment about religious freedom protections that secured GOP votes for the underlying legislation.

The amendment included language saying that religious organizations would not be required to perform same-sex marriages and that the federal government would not be required to protect polygamous marriages.

A White House official said other attendees at the signing included Matthew Haynes, a co-owner of Club Q, the LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where five people were killed last month, and shooting survivors James Slaugh and Michael Anderson. Cyndi Lauper, the singer and longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, performed the song “True Colors.”

Other attendees included plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court's ruling in 2015 that guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage; Judy Kasen-Windsor, the widow of gay rights activist Edith Windsor; Philip Hirschkop, a co-counsel in Loving v. Virginia, the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling that protected interracial marriage; photographer Hunter Abrams; and Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

The law comes after Democratic leaders expressed concern that the Supreme Court could follow its June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade with a ruling to rescind the right of same-sex couples to marry. Democrats pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe, in which he called on the conservative-majority court to also revisit landmark decisions that legalized the right to contraception and same-sex marriage.

The Respect for Marriage Act also comes as state legislators have proposed a record number of bills that would limit the rights of LGBTQ people in recent years. And amid widespread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric led by right-wing conservatives and a string of attacks on the community, including the deadly shooting at Club Q.

Biden signed the bill Tuesday a decade after he came out in public support of same-sex marriage, a change for Biden, who had voted against recognition of same-sex marriages when he was a senator.

“The good news is that, as more and more Americans become to understand, what this is all about is a simple proposition: Who do you love? Who do you love, and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what all marriages, at their root, are about, whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals," Biden said in the “Meet the Press” interview in 2012.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” he added. “And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”