Biden signs Respect for Marriage Act protecting same-sex and interracial couples

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On Tuesday 13 December, US president Joe Biden will sign into law a bill granting federal protections to same-sex and interracial marriage.

It comes 12 years after Biden – then Barack Obama’s vice president – took a public stand in favour of same-sex unions. This was well before they became legal in the entire United States through a 2015 US Supreme Court decision.

Bipartisan celebrations

After the Supreme Court – which is now significantly more conservative – overturned longstanding abortion rights last June, lawmakers from the left and right came together to prevent any subsequent move to curb same-sex marriage rights.

The legislation’s final adoption by Congress last week marked a rare show of bipartisanship in deeply divided Washington.

In celebration, Biden will gather a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the White House grounds, along with advocates and plaintiffs in marriage equality cases across the country, according to his spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.

Jean-Pierre, who herself made history as the first openly gay White House press secretary, also touted “musical guests and performances to celebrate this historic bill”.

The legislation, she said:

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will give peace of mind to millions of LGBTQI+ and interracial couples who will finally be guaranteed the rights and protections to which they and their children are entitled.

Growing support

Hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples have married since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalising the unions throughout the United States.

Public acceptance has grown dramatically in recent decades, with polls now showing a strong majority of Americans supporting same-sex marriage.

However, some conservatives and the religious right remain opposed.

The new legislation, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, does not require states to legalise same-sex marriage. Rather, it requires them to recognise a marriage so long as it was valid in the state where it was performed.

It repeals previous legislation defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Furthermore, it protects interracial couples by requiring states to recognise legal marriages without regard to “sex, race, ethnicity or national origin”.

In the House of Representatives, 39 Republicans joined a united Democratic majority in supporting the bill. Meanwhile, 169 Republicans voted against. It was previously adopted in the evenly-split Senate by 61 votes to 36.

‘Who do you love?’

Press secretary Jean-Pierre said Biden would stress that:

there is much more work to be done to protect LGBTQI+ individuals across the country.

Biden’s spokeswoman recalled that he was among the first American political leaders to publicly support same-sex unions.

Back in 2012, Biden caused a stir by candidly declaring his support for same-sex unions. At the time, Obama’s White House was still hesitating to make the president’s position official while he sought reelection.

Biden said in a televised interview at the time:

I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying woman and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same, exact rights.

Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? That’s what people are finding out what all marriages at their root are about.

Beyond marriage

Beyond the issue of marriage, the Biden administration has taken a strong stance in support of LGBTQI+ rights – notably towards the trans community, whose push for greater rights has become a political flashpoint in the country.

The administration has introduced gender-neutral passports – allowing people who identify neither as male nor female to select the gender “X”. It also lifted a ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces, introduced under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.

Featured image via Unsplash, resized to 770*403

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