WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden has signed the historic Respect for Marriage Act, cementing into law federal protection for both same-sex and inter-racial marriages and delivering a victory for Democrats.
“Today’s a good day. A day America takes a vital step toward equality, toward liberty and justice, not just for some but for everyone,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday during a ceremony on the White House’s South Lawn.
He called the choice of whom to marry “one of the most profound decisions a person can make”.
“The law recognises that everyone should have the right to answer those questions for themselves, without government interference,” the president said. “Now the law requires that inter-racial marriage and same-sex marriage must be recognised as legal in every state and the nation.”
The Bill signing at the White House was a celebration for supporters of the measure, with prominent members of the LGBT+ community and allies in attendance, and musical performances from Cyndi Lauper and others.
Mr Biden was also joined by congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Democrats were eager to enact the measure during the end-of-year session, while they still have majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Republicans will narrowly take control of the House in January, and Democrats had expressed concerns that the US Supreme Court could reverse rights for same-sex couples.
The justices in June overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a national right to an abortion.
In a concurring opinion, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should review other “due process precedents” including the 2015 ruling that required all states to issue same-sex marriage licences.
Mr Biden on Tuesday said Congress is acting “because of the extreme Supreme Court”, which he said had stripped away a right “important to millions of Americans that existed for half a century”.
The House last week voted 258-169 to clear the measure, with 39 House Republicans joining in support. The House had previously passed the measure in July, but took it up again after the Senate amended the Bill to include provisions aimed an ensuring protections for religious liberty.
Some Republicans have said the legislation is unnecessary and would infringe on religious rights despite the Senate changes.
Mr Biden also referenced his own role in pushing for acceptance of same-sex marriages.
In May 2012, then-Vice President Biden expressed his support for same-sex marriage during a television interview – becoming the highest-ranking Democrat to publicly endorse the idea, ahead of President Barack Obama.
“I got in trouble,” Mr Biden joked on Tuesday.
Days later, Mr Obama also expressed his support in an interview. BLOOMBERG