Biden signs bill to protect same-sex marriage rights

WASHINGTON — President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law on Tuesday, mandating federal recognition of same-sex marriage and capping his personal evolution toward embracing gay rights over the course of a four-decade political career.

In an elaborate signing ceremony on the South Lawn, complete with musical performances by Cyndi Lauper and Sam Smith, Mr. Biden told thousands of supporters and lawmakers that the new law represented a rare moment of bipartisanship when Democrats and Republicans came together.

“My fellow Americans, it’s been a long road to this moment, but those who believe in equality and justice, you never gave up,” Mr. Biden told the crowd, which White House officials later said had 5,300 people before signing the bill to thunderous cheers. He added: “We did it. We will continue the work forward. I promise you.”

The landmark legislation passed bipartisan coalition in Congress, officially repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which a quarter of a century ago officially defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The new law prohibits states from denying the validity of out-of-state marriages based on sex, race or ethnicity.

The meeting on a clear December afternoon, with the White House as a backdrop, was especially important to Democratic lawmakers, for whom it could be the last major bill signing of their term as Republican control of the House begins next month.

For Mr. Biden, who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act as a senator in 1996 and was hesitant to allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military, the signing ceremony was an indication of how much the president has changed when it’s about defending LGBTQ equality.

It is yet another example of how Mr. Biden’s gradual transformation as a politician has more broadly matched the evolution of his own party since he entered public life as a junior senator on Jan. 3, 1973.

His views on issues like abortion, gay marriage and sentencing reform — which once placed him on the more conservative side of his party’s ideological spectrum — are now more firmly in line with positions that have pushed Democrats and even many Republicans over the past few years.

The country continues to have deep ideological fissures. But in some areas, there are now new and different majorities that express support for social and political norms that were far different a generation ago, changing with the times, like the president.

In many ways, his arc is the arc of the country.

Biden, 80, grew up in a time when much of the country was less tolerant of people’s sexual orientation. His political choices in the Senate reflected those times, often siding with those who proposed restrictions or restrictions on gays and lesbians. He supported a measure that would limit the way homosexuality is taught in schools, one of many defeats for the equality movement.

During his 2008 vice-presidential debate with Sarah Palin, Mr. Biden said he opposed “redefining from the civil side what marriage is.” But people close to Mr. Biden said he has remained open-minded on the issue and is a keen observer of the ways society is changing around him — and has slowly shifted his positions.

“I respect and appreciate that he is someone who can admit that his views were outdated in the past and that he has evolved on the subject and is now an outspoken advocate and defender,” said Kelly Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign , a gay rights organization in Washington. “It’s a matter of politics and politicians catching up to where people already are.”

Mr. Biden also now strongly supports women’s rights to choose to have an abortion, although he had reservations earlier in his career. A practicing Catholic, the president once was an outspoken critic of abortion rights but later became their quiet – if awkward – defender in the Senate.

After the Supreme Court decision in June to end the constitutional right to abortionMr. Biden was fiery in his condemnation of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and has repeatedly called for legislation to replace 50 years of court precedent with legal protections for women’s right to have an abortion.

Mr. Biden also changed his views on criminal sentencing, an issue that has increasingly drawn Democrats and Republicans closer in recent years. In 2018, President Donald J. Trump signed the First Step Act, a bipartisan compromise to reform sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

As a young senator, Mr. Biden repeatedly championed tough-on-crime legislation, culminating in his support for The Crime Act 1994 that many in his party now blame for an era of mass incarceration, especially of minorities. In a speech at the time, Mr Biden boasted that his view on crime was to “lock up the SOBs”.

This is no longer his opinion. As a candidate, he promised to repeal provisions of the 1994 law. And as president, he used the power of pardons to free people imprisoned for decades for minor crimes. In October, Mr. Biden issued general apology for anyone convicted of a federal felony for simple possession of marijuana. He encouraged governors to follow suit with state marijuana laws.

But neither issue represents Mr. Biden’s tendency to adapt to social and political change as gay marriage does. Studies show a a radical change in public opinion across the political spectrum over the past decade, with nearly 70 percent of Americans now saying they support the right of same-sex couples to marry, with all the rights that heterosexual couples have under the law.

The president was unequivocal in his support for the law he signed Tuesday, saying earlier this year that he was confident that “Republicans and Democrats can work together to secure the fundamental right of Americans to marry the person they they love’.

But it’s also a sign of lingering fears that newfound gay rights may be fragile. Pressure to pass the law was prompted in part by the Supreme Court’s opinion striking down abortion rights, in which Justice Clarence Thomas raised that possibility for using the same logic to review rulings protecting marriage equality and contraceptive rights.

Opponents of the legislation say it would undermine family values ​​in the United States and limit the religious freedoms of people who do not believe same-sex marriage is moral.

Supporters of the new law insisted that Congress must be proactive to ensure that a future Supreme Court decision does not invalidate same-sex marriages across the country. In 2015, the court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all states should recognize the marriages of same-sex couples just as they would recognize marriages between a man and a woman.

Once a fiercely divisive political issue, the broad acceptance of same-sex marriage was the backdrop for a rare show of bipartisanship in Congress, where 61 senators and 258 members of the House voted to send the Respect for Marriage Act to Mr. Biden’s desk for his signature. .

Until that happened, there was little doubt that the president would sign it. As a 2020 presidential candidate, he was an ardent supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage. He has appointed dozens of LGBTQ officials to posts in his administration, including Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary. Some gay rights leaders they welcomed him as the most professional president ever.

As vice president, Mr. Biden publicly announced his support for same-sex marriage ahead of his boss, President Barack Obama, scuppering careful plans to announce Mr. Obama’s re-election. In a 2012 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Mr. Biden said that “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men who marry men, women who marry women, and heterosexual men and women who marry each other are entitled to the same exact rights, all civil rights.”

It was a momentous moment, especially for one of the nation’s most prominent Catholic politicians. Tuesday’s signing of the marriage bill is the latest evidence that whatever concerns Mr. Biden may have had during the early stages of his career have all but evaporated.

“On this day, Jill and I think of the brave couples and fiercely committed advocates who fought for decades to secure national marriage equality on the Supreme Court and in Congress,” Mr. Biden said in a statement after the House passed last week. “We must never stop fighting for full equality for LGBTQI+ Americans and all Americans.”

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