On the south lawn of the White House, surrounded by hundreds of LGBTQ leaders and allies, President Biden signed into law the Respect For Marriage Act (RFMA) December 13. Joining him were out members of his Cabinet and Congress, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Deputy Health Secretary Admiral Rachel Levine, Reps. Sharice Davids and David Cicilline, and Senator Tammy Baldwin, the first out lesbian in the Senate who spearheaded the legislation. Also in attendance were Pennsylvania LGBTQ leaders including State Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, La’Tasha D. Mayes, and Jessica Benham, along with Jonathan Lovitz and Eric Gutshall.
The legislation requires the federal government to recognize marriages that were legal in whatever state in which they were performed; secures all legal benefits of marriage “regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin”; and rescinds the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
“Marriage — I mean this with all my heart — marriage is a simple proposition: Who do you love, and will you be loyal with that person you love? It’s not more complicated than that,” Biden said in his remarks.
The event included remarks from Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C., who sang the justice-themed anthem “Make Them Hear You” from the musical “Ragtime.”
Also delivering remarks were Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith, Plaintiffs for Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Court case which led the way for the state to become the first in the country to allow same-sex marriage in 2004.
“It takes the efforts of many to bend the arc of history toward justice,” Heidi Nortonsmith said. “Even now, there are so many places where people in our community are under attack. The work will continue. But look at how far we’ve come.”
Vice President Harris, who introduced President Biden, recalled performing same-sex marriages when she was District Attorney of San Francisco.
“You know, I often reflect on the week of Valentine’s Day 2004, when I had the honor to stand in San Francisco City Hall and perform some of our country’s first marriages of same-sex couples,” Harris said. “I saw tears of joy that day as people celebrated basic human rights: the right to be recognized as a family; the right to be with the person you love, whether at a military graduation, a hospital bedside, or a naturalization ceremony.”
Biden recognized several leaders and allies who fought for marriage equality over decades, including Richard and Mildred Loving, whose Supreme Court case paved the way for interracial marriage, and Edie Windsor and Jim Obergefell, whose cases did the same for same-sex marriage. Biden also recalled his son Beau Biden, the former attorney general of Delaware “who filed the amicus brief with the Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality and pushed to add gender identity protections into the law as well.”
The signing took place days after Brittney Griner, the WNBA star and out lesbian who had been unlawfully detained in Russia since February, was returned home after a prisoner swap. Biden recalled being with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and sharing the good news with her.
“We were together in the Oval Office — her wife and I — when we heard Brittney’s voice on the phone when she was freed. And we addressed the nation together. When we did that, Brittney’s wife said, quote, “Today, my family is whole.” My fellow Americans, that all-consuming, life-altering love and commitment — that’s marriage.”
Amid the palpable joy expressed by the crowd, the musical performances, and the speeches, Biden reminded people that the fight for LGBTQ equality is not over, especially considering the recent actions of the Supreme Court and the right-wing animus towards LGBTQ people that manifest in book bans and assaults on trans healthcare, among other acts.
“When hospitals, libraries, and community centers are threatened and intimidated because they support LGBTQ children and families, we have to speak out. We must stop the hate and violence like we just saw in Colorado Springs, where a place of acceptance and celebration was targeted for violence and terror.
“We need to challenge the hundreds of callous and cynical laws introduced in the states targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors who give children the care they need. And we have to protect these children so they know they are loved and that we will stand up for them and so they can seek for themselves.
“Folks, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia — they’re all connected. But the antidote to hate is love.”